Parenting Rights for Stepparents
Roughly 40% of all married couples with children in the U.S. are blended families. With so many stepparents raising their spouse's children, the question of parental rights and legal guardianship is commonly raised when it comes to matters like discipline, medical decisions, and where the children will attend school.
It is important to note that stepparents do not automatically have the right to make legal decisions for their stepchildren simply by virtue of their relationship to them. In order to obtain this right, a stepparent generally must be given that right through a minor guardianship case, adoption, death of both biological parents, or a proceeding that terminates a biological parent’s rights.
Petition for Minor Guardianship
Staring January 1, 2021, a new law gave stepparents the ability to petition the court to become a legal guardian for their stepchildren. There are two main types of minor guardianship cases. If a child needs someone to immediately act as their legal guardian, you can file an emergency minor guardianship petition. If granted, this will generally only be effective for 60 days. If you wish to be a child’s guardian for longer than 60 days, then you can file a minor guardianship petition. Both types of guardianship cases can be filed at the same time. Courts can grant an emergency minor guardianship petition to place the children with a guardian temporarily while the minor guardianship case is in progress. It is important to note that you must file two separate petitions with case numbers if you plan on filing both emergency minor guardianship and minor guardianship. At the first hearing, you can ask the judge to combine your two cases.
Voluntarily Acknowledge Parentage
Under Washington’s Uniform Parentage Act, you can obtain the right to make legal decisions for a child if you marry a spouse who is a child’s one and only legal parent by either birth, adoption, or surrogacy. To do this, you must assert parentage by filing an acknowledgment of parentage form with the state registrar of vital statistics or you can agree to be named on the stepchild’s birth certificate.
Petition to Become the Child’s De Facto Parent
You can also petition the court for legal parental rights by proving you are a de facto parent. This requires you to file a de facto parentage action with the court and prove you lived with the child as a regular member of their household for a substantial period of time and are a consistent caretaker for the child. You must also prove you weren’t paid in any way for your caretaking and that you established a bonded, dependent, parent-like relationship with the child that is supported by the other legal parent. It is important to note that the de facto parent petition doesn’t deal with custody or visitation. You will have to petition the court for a parenting plan if your de facto parent petition is granted.
Other Methods of Obtaining Guardianship of a Stepchild
Legal guardianship can also be obtained if the legal parent nominates the stepparent as the child’s guardian in their will or power of attorney for when they pass away or if they become incapacitated.
Consult with an Experienced Attorney
McKinley Irvin’s seasoned attorneys have extensive experience handling minor guardianships, parentage, and second-parent adoptions. We can explain all of your options under the law and prepare petitions, arrange required post-placement reports, and represent you at final hearings.
To speak to one of our legal professionals about parental rights, please call (206) 397-0399 or complete our convenient online form.