Before the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion in A.S. v, I.S. decided December 29, 2015, Stepparents in Pennsylvania had no child support obligation to their stepchild, even if that stepparent had a partial child custody order with the stepchild. In a legal opinion that has sent shock waves through the Family Court, a stepparent was held to have a support obligation for the stepparent’s non-biological child.
Be advised that the Court specifically stated that the Court was not intending upon making a general rule that all stepparents have this obligation. However, in making it’s ruling based on the facts of this case, it did hold such an obligation.
In A.S., after the Mother and Stepfather were no longer together, Mother wished to move with the child to California. Father proceeded to Court to request that the Court forbid this move, based on Father’s custodial rights. After a trial, the Court entered an order of equal, week-on, week-off physical custody, and shared legal custody. The Court also prohibited either parent from relocating with the children, without permission of the other party or the court.
After the court entered this decision giving Stepfather custody rights equal to the natural Mother, she filed for child support against Stepfather reasoning that since Stepfather was granted equal custodial rights to the natural Mother, he should be treated as any other natural Father would be treated by holding that he has a child support obligation. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court agreed with Mother.
The Supreme Court held that when a Stepparent achieves “…all of the rights of parenthood at the cost of interfering with the rights of a fit parent, then…it is in the best interest of the children to have stability and continuity in their parent-child relationships. By holding a person such as stepfather liable for child support, we increase the likelihood that only individuals who are truly dedicated and intend to be stable fixtures in the child’s life would take the steps to litigate and obtain rights equal to those of the child’s parent”.
Analysis: Stepfather here took extraordinary steps in asserting his custody rights by succeeding in blocking natural Mother’s relocation to California. The Supreme Court basically held that one has to “pay to play”. If a party goes to extraordinary lengths to assert his or her custody rights, that person may be held pay child support for the privilege of succeeding in obtaining these rights.
Stay tuned. This is how new law is made. An expansion of this doctrine, to include more stepparents in this obligation, is foreseeable in the future. Family lawyers throughout Pennsylvania will undoubtedly use this case, in other stepparent custody cases, to attempt to expand this obligation in the future.
If you are a stepparent, be mindful of this decision if you decide to seek custodial rights in your stepchildren.