If you’re going through a divorce and have stepchildren, you may wonder if you’ll owe child support payments after you and your spouse separate. Similarly, if you’re a grandparent, you may wonder if you could owe child support for one or more of your grandchildren. The answer to both questions is only in certain, limited circumstances. We’ve outlined those circumstances below.
As a stepparent, you stand in loco parentis (meaning you’re acting as a parent) to your spouse’s children during the marriage. That status typically ends when the marriage ends. So, if you and your spouse divorce, your in loco parentis status terminates when you divorce. Typically, a court will not order you to make payments to help support your stepchildren.
However, if you voluntarily agree in writing to support your stepchildren, you may be liable for child support. To be a valid writing, you must properly execute it in front of a notary. Even if you are liable for child support though, your obligation will likely only be to the extent the biological parents cannot provide support to meet the reasonable needs of the children.
Like stepparents, grandparents don’t automatically owe child support for their grandchildren. In fact, there are only a couple of scenarios in which a judge could decide they’re liable. For instance, if they volunteer to support their grandchildren in a validly executed writing, they’ll likely owe child support.
Likewise, a judge may hold a grandparent liable for support of a grandchild if either of the grandchild’s parents is an unemancipated minor. An unemancipated minor is a child under the age of 18 who is still legally under their parent’s authority.
In that case, the grandparents would owe their child’s share of the child support amount until their child reached the age of 18. As an example, if Madison has a baby when she’s 16 years old and remains unemancipated, her parents will owe her share of child support until she reaches the age of 18.
Additionally, if both of the child’s parents were under the age of 18 when the child was born and they both remain unemancipated, both sets of grandparents (including maternal and paternal) will owe child support until each of the child’s parents reaches the age of 18. For example, if Madison is 16 when she has a baby and the baby’s biological father, James, is 15 at the time, both the maternal grandparents and the paternal grandparents will owe child support until James reaches the age of 18.
Lastly, if only one of the baby’s parents is an unemancipated minor and the other is emancipated or over the age of 18, the grandparents could still be liable for child support until the minor becomes emancipated or reaches the age of 18. However, the grandparents will only owe if the other parent is behind in child support payments. In that case, the grandparents will owe any child support arrearages.
Child support can be a complex issue. If you’re a stepparent or grandparent and would like to know more about your legal rights, our experienced family law attorneys can help. Contact our office to schedule a consultation.
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