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Child Support Bullets Part 6: Stepparents and New Significant Others

Parentskidpark-300x200Welcome back to another section of my recent guide about child support in family law and divorce cases. As you may well know, child support is a common concern for many parents, unmarried parents or those moving through a period of separation or divorce. It’s often important for the courts to determine how financial support should be issued to a child and their parent for the continued support of the children.

In this bullet-point guide, we’ve been covering some of the common issues that arise in child support cases. In this particular segment, we’ll be looking at the rights of stepparents when courts are making child support decisions, and the impact that a new boyfriend or girlfriend can have on a case.

If you have any questions about the issues covered here, please remember that you can find additional guidance elsewhere in the articles on my blog and website.

Stepparents and Child Support

Stepparents are a common part of life for many children across New York today. Just like anyone else, it’s common for stepparents to want to know what their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to caring for stepchildren. Some stepparents may take responsibility for a child on a financial level; however stepparents don’t automatically get the parental authority of biological parents in the eyes of the New York law.  What about stepparents and child support?

  • Stepparents may be asked to pay child support when married to the parent of the children when the children are in danger of becoming “public charges”. This can prompt parties into getting a divorce finalized if necessary, to try to avoid this support responsibility. Stepparents generally aren’t obligated for child support for their spouse’s children, besides the public charge situation, unless they become legally the parent through either adoption, or a legal principle called equitable estoppel.
  • Equitable estoppel may be applied by the courts for a stepparent who holds a child to be their own regardless of biological relationship. If there is not another person legally identified as the parent, this person may become the estoppel parent, regardless of DNA tests.
  • A decision to apply equitable estoppel to a case must be found to be in the best interests of the child or children. This doctrine can help to prevent parents or stepparents keen to be an important part of a child’s life from going back on their obligations at a time if they become less interested.
  • Stepparents who want to be involved in a child’s life from a legal perspective can sometimes apply for guardianship, if the appropriate parties consent to this action. A guardian in New York law is someone responsible for looking after a child and their best interests. Any adult friends, relatives, or child protective agencies can petition for guardianship over a child. Children over the age of 14 have some say in who will be the guardians.
  • Stepparent adoption may be a way for stepparents to gain full parental rights over a child. It is also sometimes possible for testamentary guardianship to be provided by the parents of children. The law can allow for the designation of a standby guardian in cases where the current guardian or parent has a progressive chronic or fatal disease.

Child Support and the New Boyfriend/Girlfriend

I frequently receive inquiries from parents wondering about their obligations for child support and similar issues when there are new significant others in that person’s life. Like with child custody issues, there are various reasons that a new relationship can have an impact on how a person feels about child support and the orders associated:

  • It’s common for parents to worry that their available funds being reduced by a payment of child support will make it difficult to fully support a new family. A couple may want to request for an order of child support to be reconsidered when there are new expenses that they need to think about in their life that reduces their available income.
  • Significant others often want more resources to go towards them and the new relationship, as well as any children that may be involved. However, it’s important to note that the courts of New York will only consider altering a child support order, unless the parties have otherwise agreed to different circumstances than the default reasons which are: 3 or more years has elapsed; income has changed by 15% or more; or there otherwise has been a substantial change in circumstances.
  • The needs of other children belonging to the non-custodial parent can sometimes be a reason to deviate from child support guidelines typically used in New York law but only under narrow circumstances. If the financial resources available to support the children of a household an individual is in is lower than the resources available to the children of the previous relationship, this can be considered by a court as a reason to deviate from the guidelines.
  • I frequently see requests for child support modifications when a new significant other becomes involved in a parent’s life. This request for a modification will not always be seriously considered, unless there is evidence that there has been a significant change in circumstances that would make the child support payment ordered inappropriate.
  • In some cases, the addition of a new significant order may be considered by the court as access to additional income. This would not be the case in most cases, but if someone is deemed “under employed” or their account of finances is not credible, income might be deemed added to that person or imputed based on the expenses that are being paid for that individual by another party (as one example).
  • In some cases, custodial parents will want an increase in child support amounts when the other parent begins a relationship with a new significant other. While this could be considered, this is often not seen as an appropriate reason to increase the child support amount.

As usual, if you have any questions about the issues addressed above, please contact me at your earliest convenience via the form offered here, or my phone number to schedule your initial consultation, up to the first thirty minutes is free.

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