In December 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that under certain circumstances, a step-parent can be required to pay child support for his or her former spouse’s biological children.  To become responsible to pay child support, the step-parent must take affirmative legal steps to assume the same parental rights as the biological parent.

In the case before the Court, the mother, who had twin sons, married the stepfather in Serbia.  The family later relocated to Pennsylvania.  After the parties’ separated, the mother expressed her intention to relocate to California with the children.  The stepfather filed a court action to prevent the relocation.  The Court prevented the mother from relocating and entered an order giving the parties 50/50 custody of the children.  The mother than filed for child support against the stepfather.  Later, by agreement of the parties, the stepfather obtained sole physical custody of the children;  he then filed for child support against the mother.

Prior to the instant case, it had long been the rule that stepparents are not liable for child support after the marriage dissolves.  However, here, the Supreme Court found that the instant case was not the typical case of a stepparent who wants to maintain a post-separation relationship with his or her stepchildren.  Instead, the stepfather in this case litigated in court and achieved the same legal and physical custody rights that would naturally accrue to any biological parent.  He insisted upon and became a full parent in every sense of that concept.  The Court stated “Equity prohibits stepfather from disavowing his parental status to avoid a support obligation to the children he so vigorously sought to parent.”

For more information about the rights and responsibilities of step-parents and child support obligations please contact the family law lawyers at Astor Weiss Kaplan & Mandel, LLP located in Philadelphia.