Becoming a stepparent is a big responsibility. You no doubt want what's best for your stepchildren, but understanding your legal obligations to them can be confusing. What are your responsibilities when it comes to child support?
Stepparents Are Not Primarily Responsible for Child Support
In North Carolina, stepparents are not primarily responsible for a child's financial support; the biological or adoptive parents are. As a stepparent, you have no legal duty to pay child support if your marriage to the child's parent ends by divorce or death.
However, nothing prevents a stepparent from voluntarily offering support in a “in loco parentis” role. You can choose to provide financial support to a child through a valid separation agreement. By acting “in loco parentis,” you assume the status and responsibility of a parent to the child without formally adopting them.
Stepparents May Be Secondarily Liable
There could be some circumstances in which the stepparent's child support obligation is secondarily liable to the legal parents. When a judge considers your responsibility as a stepparent to pay child support, they consider it against the legal parents' ability to provide support for the child. If the legal parents cannot meet the child's reasonable needs, you could be responsible for making up for the deficiency.
In situations of secondary liability, the judge must determine the stepparent's obligation on a case-by-case basis. The normal rules of North Carolina child support guidelines do not apply.
Determining a Legal Parent's Support Obligation
When the court sets the legal parent's child support obligation, it cannot factor in the stepparent's income. However, one exception to this rule would be if you are providing health insurance to your stepchild. Your health insurance premium for the child can be credited to your spouse when calculating the legal parents' child support obligations.
Skilled Family Law Guidance
If you are a stepparent with questions about your financial responsibilities to your children, we can help. Call us at 919-719-2785 or contact us online. Our experienced family law attorneys can answer all your questions and help you find the best solution for your family.