Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Are Stepparents "Real" Parents? - Read our post at

From Po:

(Go to to jump this commentary and read our post right away.)

Two weeks ago, Ashley and I promised you readers that we'd soon blog on whether stepparents deserve steprights. We had our information together, but we were looking for something timely to hang it on. We had discovered an intriguing new solution in Scotland, where they now allow stepfamilies to fill out a simple form granting Parents' Rights and Responsibilities to a third parent (like a stepparent or grandparent). Filing this PRR form with the appropriate court clerk in Scotland establishes full parental rights.

However, there wasn't much chance that the United States was going to adopt Scotland's solution, not even if we blogged about it every week for a year. So we needed something else more timely to hang our analysis on.

Ashley spotted it first thing Monday morning, when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling from Washington State. The case involved two lesbians fighting for custody, and so all the news reports tagged this as a "gay rights" story; however, Ashley immediately read the entire case history, and discovered that Washington State specifically says this law applies to stepparents as well as gay and lesbian parents (foster parents and legal guardians too). We hit with our story right away. So far, we are the only journalists covering this story to see its much bigger ramifications.

I really hope you go read this story on Time's site. I think it will be eye-opening to realize how stepparents are in complete legal limbo, despite being ubiquitous in our society.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are stepparents required to "adopt" the step child in order to be able to have the same rights as the biological parents?

Just curious here...

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Po and Ash,
I really enjoyed this-I'll probably talk about it with my mom and stepfather over the dinner table. I've had a step parent for the past 14 years and haven't had to assert any legal rights, but it's definitely food for thought. That step parent has been deeply involved in my life and deserves to have some rights. Keep up the good work!

11:02 AM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

Regarding Adoptions, the answer is "yes." In order for a stepparent to have full rights, they have to adopt the child, legally. The trick here is that for a new guardian to adopt, one of the original two parents has to sign away their rights as parent, permanently. In all U.S. States, there can only be two parents. That's partly why this case is so interesting; Washington State is not necessarily insisting on ONLY two parents. They've left the potential there for three or more grownups to be considered parents.

I also have a clarification on inheritance from stepparents. You can use a will to deem your life's possessions to a stepchild. But without a will, there is no automatic pass from parent to stepchild, as there is with biological children. Since a will takes care of this, the bigger issue has been with insurance benefits, like social security death benefits. When someone dies, each of their children is entitled to 3/4 of that parent's social security benefits. It's usually paid out as a lump sum. But stepchildren are not eligible for this benefit. Some have sued, and the courts haven't helped.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Andreia said...

As a stepparent who has taken a child to the emergency room, this only makes sense!

Is there a way to read others comments on or do you have to subscribe?

11:56 AM  
Blogger Po Bronson said... didn't turn on comments on their site. They actually don't have the technical capacity to do that yet, but they'll be there soon.

Last week they let readers mail in emails from the Mommy Wars piece, but even then there's no way to see them - even I didn't get to see them. they go to Time's letters department.

So the new technology there will be warmly welcomed.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

This ruling is a major step forward. I am new to step-mom role and was very surprised to find out that despite the fact that I provide medical benefits to my stepson and a stable, loving home environment were he is encouraged to learn and grow, I have no rights at all. Not even ability to pick him up from the day care or to see him when my husband is away on business. His biological mom decided to simply pretend that I don't exist and so far ignored every inquiry my husband has made about my role in helping to raise their son. It seems that she would rather see child pick sides then instill idea of the extended family where everyone loves him equally and does what’s best for his wellbeing.

2:41 PM  

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