Legal Rights of Stepparents

The title of this article may seem like an oxymoron. However, stepparents do have some rights under Colorado law.

Following a divorce, a parent may resent his or her ex-spouse's new husband or wife - and try to limit what the stepparent can do in the children's lives. Other times, following the death of a parent, a remarried parent may have interference from the family of the deceased parent, as the new stepparent tries to take an active role in the children's lives. Due to some recent changes in Colorado law, stepparents have some limited, new legal rights. Additionally, stepparents have some other rights that are long-established under Colorado law.

A parent who has been granted sole or joint decision making authority (sometimes referred to as "custody") following a divorce or allocation of parental responsibility case ("APR case") may delegate that authority to another person for up to nine months. The delegation of authority is called a temporary guardianship, and must be done in writing. The delegation of authority does not strip either parent of the right to make decisions, but rather, the delegation of authority can run concurrently with the parent's authority. For example, a divorced mother or father may delegate to a new spouse the authority to sign certain school consent forms. A divorced parent who is out of the state or country on business may delegate to a stepparent the absent parent's decision making authority for making joint, major decisions affecting the child's health, education or general welfare, with the ex-spouse.

After a divorce or APR case, and upon the death of a parent, custody of a child does not automatically vest with the surviving parent. If a stepparent has physical possession of a child following the death of the other parent, the stepparent may have legal standing to seek custody (APR) of the child.

Visitation (parenting time) rights may be awarded to a stepparent, if the child's parent and stepparent divorce. Whether a stepparent will be awarded parenting time depends on the nature and extent of the relationship between the stepparent and the child. Courts recognize that sometimes, it could be detrimental to the child to sever the link between the child and the stepparent.

Stepparents have certain rights concerning child immunizations. Every parent, legal guardian, or person vested with legal custody or decision-making responsibility for the medical care of a minor, or person otherwise responsible for the care of an infant residing in this state, is responsible for having such infant vaccinated in compliance with the schedule of immunizations established by the state. The authority to consent to the immunizations may be delegated, verbally or in writing, to a stepparent.

Driving permit and license forms may be signed by stepparents. Under Colorado law, and application for an instruction permit or minor's driver's license must be accompanied by an affidavit of liability. The affidavit of liability must be signed and verified by the father, mother, or stepparent of the applicant.

Stepparents may adopt a stepchild in an expedited adoption proceeding. If the stepparent consents to adopting his or her spouse's child, and if the other birth parent has abandoned the child for a period of one year or more or the other birth parent has failed without cause to provide reasonable support for such child for a period of one year or more, an adoption can occur in a relatively short amount of time - sometimes less than two months from service of the adoption petition. Furthermore, if a parent having only residual parental responsibilities (after custody or parental responsibilities have been awarded or allocated to the other parent in a divorce case) consents to the adoption, a stepparent who wants to adopt the child may do so in as little as thirty-one days.

Conclusion

While stepparents have a limited legal role in children's lives, they are not without some legal rights. Clarifying and maximizing the role and responsibilities of stepparents in appropriate circumstances may enrich the lives of children.

Gregg A. Greenstein is a shareholder in the law firm of Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein, P.C., a Colorado law firm.  His practice areas include Real Estate, Litigation, Family Law, Divorce, and Adoption.   He can be reached at contact Gregg Greenstein.

Disclaimer -- Content is general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter, nor does its publication create an attorney-client relationship. Laws vary from one state to another. For legal advice on a specific matter, consult an attorney.