Rights of a Stepparent in Making Legal Decisions for Stepchild

The ability of a stepparent to make decisions on behalf of a stepchild is limited. Unless a stepparent has legally adopted a stepchild, he or she will have no legal right to make legal and medical decisions on behalf of their stepchild. That would mean that you have no right to make a decision on what school he or she attends, or does not attend, or health and medical decisions on their behalf, even if the stepchild wanted you to be involved in the decision making, such as accompanying them to a doctor’s appointment, etc. Your opinions and decisions cannot overrule the rights of a natural parent or guardian to make choices for their children. This is often frustrating when there is a natural bond and affection that exists between a stepparent and a stepchild, and the stepparent is at home with the child on a regular basis while the natural parent or guardian is at work.

A stepparent owes a stepchild the same “duty of care” in their home as any child visiting. This is true in an emergency situation as well. How you are expected to behave depends upon the facts and circumstances surrounding an event, but the stepparent still cannot give legal authorization for treatment of a stepchild at a hospital or other medical facility. Only the natural parent(s) or legal guardian(s) can consent.

Some states (such as Arizona) allow the rights of the natural parents or legal guardians to be delegated to the stepparent through a Power of Attorney form, signed and notarized by a parent or guardian, giving a non-parent the right to make decisions on behalf of the minor child. It can be limited in time (from such and such a date to such and such a date), and it can be limited as to what is permitted (sign the child up for an activity, take the child to the doctor, take the child on vacation, make a specific decision). Not all places would accept such a Power of Attorney and they do not last forever. In Arizona, for example, they are valid for a maximum of 6 months. They can be renewed, but only for another 6 months. The courts want to make sure that there is not interference with the rights of parents or of the court appointed guardians.