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How do stepparents factor into post-divorce parenting?

Finding love and marrying again after a divorce can be exciting. It is even better when individuals find a partner who builds a meaningful relationship with their children as well.

However, families in this situation often face a common challenge: how do stepparents fit into the co-parenting situation when they officially become part of the family?

Are they subject to the parenting plan?

It is important to note that stepparents are not usually included in the actual parenting plan. The legal custody agreement and parenting arrangement remain only between the parents of the child.

That said, parenting is one of the biggest issues families face when one parent remarries. The stepparent might not know how they fit in the co-parenting arrangement, and the other parent might feel a mix of emotions regarding the inclusion of the stepparent.

Stepparents might not be legally responsible in many post-divorce parenting arrangements, but it is still something that co-parents – and the family as a whole – should address. After all, the stepparent will often still have a large impact on a child’s life. With that said, it is important that a stepparent be in a supportive role and not try to assume the primary parental role. Significant boundary issues can arise if a stepparent attempts to take over the parental role of their partner, or tries to insert themselves as a replacement for the other parent. These dynamics can cause friction even if the co-parenting relationship between the parents has historically been good.

What should families consider?

Parents should consider sitting down with their new partners and the child’s other parent to discuss specific details, including:

  • The rules of the parenting plan and parenting responsibilities;
  • How much of the stepparent’s involvement everyone is comfortable with, including whether the stepparent will be listed as an emergency contact or a person authorized to provide transportation on school and medical forms;
  • What role the stepparent will play and take in the child’s life, especially when it comes to disciplinary issues and decision-making; and
  • How the stepparent will communicate with the other parent, if necessary. Sometimes a stepparent may communicate better with the other parent than their partner does; in other cases, the communications can turn explosive. Establishing clear boundaries for how and when communication between a stepparent and partner needs to occur can be beneficial in preventing this. The majority of communications, especially as it pertains to major issues and decision-making, should always occur directly between the parents.

The child’s comfort level and the nature of the child’s relationship with the stepparent may also play a role in the level of involvement of a stepparent.

Navigating parenting after divorce can be a challenge, especially when new adults become a part of the family. However, as long as all of the adults involved agree to prioritize what is best for the children, it is possible for blended families to work and parent together effectively.