Stepdad who fought for shared custody must now pay support

Do you know the old saying, “With privileges come responsibility?” A Pennsylvania case illustrates that this is particularly true in custody disputes, especially when you’ve fought really hard for parental privileges.

In that case, a man married a woman with twin boys from a prior relationship. Four years later, the couple separated. The stepdad had developed a bond with the twins and the ex-couple informally shared custody. But three years later, the mother finished law school and decided to move to California. At that point, the stepdad went to court seeking custody and an order blocking her from moving. He claimed he stood “in loco parentis” (in place of the parents) since the biological dad hadn’t been involved in the kids’ lives.

A trial judge granted him shared legal and physical custody and blocked both mother and stepfather from relocating with the children.

The mother responded by seeking child support. The family court denied her request, telling her that because the stepdad wasn’t the kids’ biological parent he wasn’t obligated to support them.

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed. The court didn’t go so far as to say that a stepparent’s effort in maintaining a relationship with his or her stepkids after a separation imposes an obligation to support them. But in a case like this, where the stepfather “relentlessly pursued” parental duties by going to court, he couldn’t then disavow his parental status just to avoid paying support, the court said.

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