Will The Court System Ever Catch Up To What Makes A Family?

by Ali D on October 3, 2012

in Parenting

It is no secret that the nuclear family is evolving. There are same sex parents raising children. There are single parents doing it completely alone. There are split families; sometimes with 4 parents, sometimes 3 and sometimes just 2. Sometimes you just have a biological parent and a step parent raising a child with no input at all from the other biological parent. The number of grandparents that some children have is astonishing.

Some of these living situations are put into place by a court order. Some are made out of desire. Some are just the only way that all involved can live.

Statistics are pretty flooring when you read that according to Stepfamily.org “50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner”.

Half the kids in the country under high school age have a step-parent. Yet there are almost no rights given to these parental figures that are helping to raise and love other people’s children.

In 2009 Jacquelyn Fletcher wrote a blog post about how her step-kids were denied getting library cards because she wasn’t their legal guardian. The post was making its rounds on the internet again a few weeks ago and caught my attention.

I am a step-parent. I am a biological parent. I am just a parent. These are my kids. All of them.


I am the primary caregiver to an amazing little girl who I couldn’t love more if I had birthed her. I have been the only mother figure she has had for more than half of her six and a half year old life. Her mother has made the decision to not be a consistent part of her life and I am in every way her mother.  Her mother is also recently married to a man who has never met her daughter.

He has the same rights that I do. He has never even met her. I kiss her scrapes, help with her homework, dry her tears and soothe her when she is sick.

In most states the fact that there is nothing legally binding a step parent to their step children is just how it is.  I am, in essence, breaking the law every time I take her to the doctor. Every time I sign one of her school papers. Every time I attend a parent/teacher conference.

The list goes on and on.

I understand that not all situations are like mine. I understand the need to keep a majority of the “parental” decisions between the two biological parents. I understand that there are just as many crappy step-parents as there are crappy biological parents. I understand a parent’s internal desire to keep all the rights to their children all to themselves.

However this can find step-parents and the children they raise in a pretty scary situation sometimes. Sometimes you can plan around a situation, sometimes you can’t.

My family lives on the border of three states. You can literally cross state lines just to have lunch. I could get arrested for kidnapping if someone really wanted to, just for taking my daughter 15 minutes west to go to Olive Garden. I keep a notarized paper that my husband signed saying I have permission to remove her from the state in my glove box, but who knows what that would really do if it came down to it.

Now we get to the nitty gritty of authorizing medical care. This is the one that really scares the beejeebus out of me. Almost a year ago I was in a pretty nasty car accident and all three of my children were in the car with me. Thankfully we are escaped the accident with bumps and bruises, which is amazing considering there was 13,000$ worth of damage done to my Nissan Pathfinder. The EMTs were the first on the scene and they quickly triaged the kids and I. Then they asked me I was the mother of all the children in the car. There was no hesitation or thought about it, I answered a simple question.

What if the accident had been worse? What is my girl had needed critical medical care? My husband works an hour from the accident scene and we have no way to contact her biological mother. Would the medical team have had to wait for my husband in order to treat her? Would I have just lied?

I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out.

This is a serious problem. There has to be a better way. There has to be a way to legally validate the families that are emerging at light speed. This problem is only going to get worse, it has to be fixed.


Lex October 3, 2012 at 9:37 am

Have you considered asking the biological mother to give up her parenting rights so you can adopt her? I know most people are not eager to do that, they think it will cut them out of their life forever, but if you have the proper relationship you can work on that.

On a personal note, I am so very happy to hear how much you love your daughter (and that is really what she is). I am glad that you see her that way and that she isn’t ever your step-daughter or anything else.

You are quite the wonderful mother to her.

Jessica October 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

You should definitely look into acquiring legal rights. My parents are divorced and the relationship between me and my father is really hostile. I have two younger siblings, one of them who is underage. She has an amicable relationship with him and due to the numerous health issues with my mom, we have found ourselves in situations where I am my sister’s caretaker. It has crossed my mind that if something ever happened to my mother during her high-risk surgeries or in general, my sister would most likely be hauled over to my father. There are just so many details, unfortunately and fortunately , life isn’t black and white and neither are the dynamics of a “normal family.”

Ali D October 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I am sorry you have to deal with that!

Ali D October 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi Lex! It is unlikely that my girl’s bio-mother will ever consider it. Nor do I really care if she does or not. My little lady knows her mama :) I just want our family safe.

Kristy October 3, 2012 at 11:33 am

I agree with everything you wrote!

I don’t know how much good it would have really done had it come down to it but my Grandmother (who raised me from the age of 2) had a legal document, signed and notarized that my mother signed, she carried it everywhere with her. It basically said something along the lines of that she had the right to do/make/be etc etc anything that my mother would have had the right to do.

Ali D October 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I have something of that nature from my husband but without a court order it is hard to say what stands up and what doesn’t :(

Allison October 4, 2012 at 5:58 am

I know what you mean, I have two kids that aren’t mine biologically, but I am the one that is home when they get off the bus, makes sure homework is done, makes sure they are fed and don’t smell too bad. I deal with emotional and behavioral crisis (one is ADHD) and doles out punishments when needed. Their birth mom hasn’t seen them in 8 years. How is it that she has rights and I don’t?

Ali D October 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Amen sister.

Jayme October 4, 2012 at 6:17 am

This scares the Hell out of me and I have also thought about all of this on many occasions. My husband and I were granted full custody of my step-son (who I only refer to as my son) because his birth mother physically abused him. There are no legal documents that say that I have any rights to him and I am terrified what would happen if something ever happened to my husband. My son visits his birth mom once a month for 2 hour supervised visits. If she wanted to, she could fight me for more rights with him and that sounds just like something that she would do. I really think that we need to do some research just in case. Thank you for writing this. I really feel that things need to change.

Ali D October 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm

YES! THIS. It would ruin my girl to have to be sent back to a mother she doesn’t know. Yet somehow the court thinks that that is better for the child? Doesn’t pass the smell test.

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