As a stepparent, you are required by law to contribute to the costs of your stepchild. Is your responsibility equal to or less than that of the “real” parents of your stepchild?
When are you a stepparent?
You are a stepparent if you are married to the father or mother of your stepchild. (You do not have a legal maintenance obligation if you live together without being married.) The maintenance obligation continues as long as your stepchild is part of your family. Therefore, if you divorce the mother or father of your stepchild, your maintenance obligation stops.
For as long as you and your stepchild together form a family and both parents are still alive, there are 3 maintenance debtors: you as a stepparent, your spouse and the other parent of your stepchild. How do they relate to each other? This question arises in particular if your spouse is in conflict with his or her ex-partner about the amount of child support for your stepchild.
Share the costs
The main rule is that the maintenance obligation of the parent and the stepparent are of equal rank. In principle, the costs of your stepchild must be equally divided by 3. However, the “special circumstances of the case” may be taken into account. What are such circumstances? Variations of all shapes and sizes occur in case law. The starting point is that a stepchild naturally has a better relationship with his parents than with his stepparents, but that is not always the case.
Sometimes the stepparent is not obliged to contribute or must only contribute less than half, because the stepparent is only briefly in the picture. Sometimes calculations are also made in proportion to capacity, but I also see statements where the principle of equal rank is used. The extent to which your stepchild still has contact with his or her other parent can also be important. If this parent no longer plays a role in the life of your stepchild for years, it may have consequences for your maintenance obligation. The judiciary is really going in all directions.
Even once everyone’s portion is known, the exercise is not yet completed. Next you need to know how much everyone’s portions are in Euros? This is a huge exercise because the financial capacity of all involved must be calculated.
An example: you are married to X’s mother and have a child Y with her. You form a family with your stepchild X, the mother of X and your both child Y. The father of X is also remarried and has a child Z together with his new wife A. He forms a family with his new wife A and child Z. What now?
The costs of your stepchild X, your child Y and child Z must be calculated depending on the income of their parents. That means that the 3 children have different costs. The financial capacity of all 4 parents must then be calculated. Not only are these endless and complex calculations, all “parents” must provide insight into their capacity.
Continuing this example: if your spouse has a dispute with your stepchild’s father X about child support, the new wife A must also provide her income details. If she does not want to do so, the main rule is that she is expected to pay half of the costs of child Z. Then only half of the costs of child Z appear on the plate of the father of your stepchild X. After all, his wife A is expected to bear the other half of the costs of child Z. All this influences your share in the costs of your stepchild X.
Be aware that as a stepparent you have a maintenance obligation towards your stepchild. This plays a role in the calculation of the child support that must be paid for your stepchild. You should also realise that even if you are not directly involved in a dispute about child support, you sometimes still have to provide your income details to third parties.
If you need assistance regarding your legal rights and obligations as a stepparent, please contact me.
This column appeared earlier in the Telegraaf.