An Outraged Rant: Legal Guardianship

5 08 2009

The ostracizing of the American stepfamily continues.

As you might know already, stepparents are not legally related to their stepchildren. Laws are different in every state, and there are a few exceptions but overall WE ARE NOT FAMILY IN THE EYES OF THE LAW. That means unless you have a legal guardianship document that is signed by BOTH PARENTS if they are still living and available, then you can’t take the kids to the hospital and okay an emergency medical procedure that could save their lives, pick them up from school, ask for a report card from school, or GET THEM A LIBRARY CARD.

Seriously.

Today I went to the Dakota County Library in Lakeville, Minn. Because I did not have proof of legal guardianship I was not allowed to help my stepkids get library cards.

I was told this by a librarian in front of all of the children. She might as well have said YOU ARE NOT A REAL FAMILY. And a once proud stepfamily walked a little less tall today. Even though I really wanted to tell her off I knew it wasn’t this librarian’s fault. It is a policy.

With stepfamilies and the people who are not married who are living with other people’s kids OUTNUMBERING first families in America, these outdated policies are completely ridiculous.

Certainly the ostracizing of American stepfamilies will continue if we hold our tongues about tough issues or don’t share with our communities and schools and governments that their policies are based on 1950s dream-land and not the reality of the lives of the people they serve.

Please, please, please, check into the laws about your legal relationships in your state. And if you don’t have a legal guardianship document signed, ask your partner to talk to his ex about getting one signed for you.  And get it done.  

I don’t have one. Not because we haven’t had the discussion about the need for one or that anyone disagrees to it, but because no one (read DH) has ever gotten around to getting the document, encouraging our other household to sign it, and signing it himself. 

I am absolutely outraged. A library card. Three children were turned out on the street today by our country’s library system because a devoted stepparent who helps pay for the house they live in and the food they eat, who listens to them talk about their problems at school or with friends, who provides daycare during the summer, does their laundry, gives them hugs, bandages them up when they fall down, and helps try to raise them to be successful adults was not allowed to get them a library card.

This must change. It’s time we stood up for ourselves not only with our stepfamily members but with society at large, don’t you think?

Has anyone else felt ostrasized because you’re in a stepfamily? By your church, school, neighbors, government, friends, family?

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21 responses

6 08 2009
Stepmom

Ah, yes, I have a similar story. My stepdaughter lives with my husband and I. I carry both of them on my insurance. Either my husband or I make and take her to all of her doctors appointments. One time she was at her mother’s and her mother took her to the doctor. But her mother refused to pay the $10 copay, so I got a bill for $20. That’s just the background so you know what I’m dealing with for an ex. Last summer when my stepdaughter was 16, we started having issues around pot smoking. Her mother didn’t know what to do or how to handle it so she made a doctor’s appointment, to let the pediatrician deal with her daughter’s drug use. Well, the doctor called me, because they had an earlier opening, and I didn’t know anything about the appointment because, of course, there is no communication between the ex and me. I told them to cancel the appointment, I wasn’t aware of it and the daughter was at her mother’s so she couldn’t make it anyway. Then this person from the doctor’s office told me that I had NO RIGHT to cancel this appointment, since I wasn’t a biological parent or the child herself. I told her the child lives with me and my husband, we provide 95% of her care and I carry the insurance and pay for it myself. She said she didn’t care how much time I spent with the child or how much money or if it was my insurance – I was nothing to this child!! My husband dealt with it – but imagine my frustrations! I agree, something needs to change in this country. Just a side note, when I took my stepdaughter to her regular yearly physical appointment six months later the doctor took me in the room and after I explained our situation and what I do for my stepdaughter, she told me that I was doing the right things for this child and to hang in there, stepparenting is not an easy role to play. So that helped a bit, to know I’m doing the right things for my stepdaughter, even though every step is extremely difficult.

29 05 2010
mom

i am a mom and have had my rights taken away by their step mom- i had a library card for them and when she took them to the library, she wanted them to have one at her address (they are there 40 percent of the time) so she canceled my daughters card and opened a new one with and signed as the parent guardian. she has done this at school, for extra activities, she puts her name down as guardian and thinks as long as she give my email address she has done enough, she has confused my children by telling them lies about me and so has their father they do not know what to believe. i understand wanting to get a library card for the kids, but you can always open one up in your name and take books out for them, or take the form home and have their father or mother sign the form, it is the parents who need to stay involved and informed. thanks

26 08 2012
Kristen

I am a divorced mother of two boys, and my ex husband re- married a good friend of mine. I also remarried and have two more kids. I do not care about my ex or his new wife, but I will say something. Maybe not in every case, but in mine….I have been put out if my children’s lives. My ex is controlled by the new wife, and she makes full decisions behind my back. Stepparents are not obligated to take care of stepchildren. When you get married, you don’t marry the kids. I am sure that if more stepparents had kids of their own, they would see how they overstep boundaries most of the time. Let the parents be the parents! You can love the kids, take them places, etc, but let decisions be up to the parents. Let the important milestones be for the parents. All a divorce between parents means is they know longer love each other, they did not divorce the kids though. The father and mother should do the same things that they would have done if they still lived together when it comes to the kids. I had insurance for both my kids, my ex told me he would get insurance so I took them off…then I had to dig real deep to find out their stepmom had them on her plan. You want to know what frustration is, you walk in a mothers shoes that has been put on the back burner. And the sad part is that in all the immaturity that goes on with the adults, the kids suffer, and they did not have a say in anything. Everyone needs to realize where their place is. Stepparents will never be the biological parent, stop trying to fill those shoes. Kids need their parents, period!

6 08 2009
Carrie

My husband’s 2 oldest kids live with us. I am not legal guardian for many reasons (too many to list here). What I experience is just the opposite. They assume I am mom to the point they go around my husband to me which infuriates both of us. I am a back up emergency contact yet they go straight to me instead of my husband. This is true for everyone. The school, the summer program anything that needs to be signed, counselors. I tell all of them I am only stepmom and they wait until I am finished and keep going. Usually if I am with the kids alone I will call my husband on the spot and have him deal with it, or if I can’t reach him I tell them I will let my husband know for him to handle the situation.

6 08 2009
Jeni

My fiance works nights and his daughter spends over 50% of the time by us, inclduing while he’s at work. She got sick on afternoon and it was our night to have her. My fiance went to work a few hours late, but I asked to leave a few hours early so that she didn’t have to be shuttled back and forth while she wasn’t feeling well. I also took vacation here and there to attend her many dance performances, since I am the reason she’s in it. I eventually lost my job becuase I was attending events and caring for a sick child who “wasn’t mine.” I treat her as my own, but my work didn’t see her as my family. I am so glad I do not work for a company who feels this way.

6 08 2009
Rebecca Lippett (aka La Bell Mere UK)

I guess they must be a little more lenient in the UK because I registered both my step-kids at the local library and I did explain at the time that I was their step-mother. They issued me with the library cards but then asked me if my, er… um… ahh…. “little friends” would be interested in the summer reading challenge! He he…. I know that LEGALLY I have no rights, but thankfully our local council are a little less stringent with their library policies!

7 08 2009
Danielle

Perhaps the easiest way around this is not legal guardianship, but a simple Power of Attorney signed by your own spouse. I should mention that I do have legal guardianship b/c of an all but absent bio mom in my particular case.. and a legal guardianship DOES have to be signed by a judge to be legal… Legal guardianship can be temporary or permanent. Mine is permanent. I think that legal guardianship is not exactly the answer as it does take away somewhat from the rights of the parent, where as Power of Attorney does not. I would recommend that ALL stepmoms that have time alone with their skids get a POA in case of emergency or for things like this. I had one before getting legal guardianship. 🙂 Have a good one. I totally understand your frustration.

7 08 2009
Diane/Mama J

My husband’s first wife passed away before we married, and he specifically asked me to adopt his children because he didn’t want them becoming wards of the state if something happened to him. After discussing this further with him and the kids, I did adopt them at about ages 6 and 8. Now that they are adults at 21 and 23 that is all null and void, of course.

What is ironic is that today you couldn’t get your stepkids a library card…but next week, will it be life-saving medical care? I hope the people you reach in the government can see the absurdity of what COULD happen if the laws aren’t updated. Keep us posted!

8 08 2009
A Happy Report « Becoming A Stepmom

[…] happy to tell everyone that the library card fiasco has a happy ending! After my three stepchildren were denied library cards by a librarian who said […]

8 08 2009
Mary Kyle

I just read your blog and all I could say was WOW! I’ve been there. My ex-husband’s children were 2 and 4 respectively when we married. He had custody and they lived with us from day 1. He had a job that required him to travel and for the first several years, was only home on the weekends. The younger boy fell at daycare and needed a few stitches and even though we could locate the mother and the father was out of town and the children were 100% in my care for 5 days a week, I couldn’t sign for emergency medical treatment. The daycare director could. Two years later, the same child was in a severe accident at school and cut off a finger. I happened to be on campus volunteering in another classroom at the time. That time, I lied to the hospital and listed myself as the biological mother so that there would be no delay in his treatment. That was over 25 years ago. It’s a shame to see that we still haven’t come any farther.

10 08 2009
Kelly

I actually live in Dakota county as well and had no problem signing up my step-daughters for a library card at Wescott library in Eagan. I think maybe the individual you were dealing with was the problem, not necessarily the library system.

As far as legal guardianship, in the eyes of the law it is similar to adoption. I think the route to go would be to get a power of attorney signed from your husband. That document would allow you to act on “his” parental behalf.

Unless you have an excellent relationship with the bio-mom, I would be surprised if you were easily able to obtain official legal guardianship. Not many parents are willing to give a “legal” say to the ex’s new spouse.

10 08 2009
Jacque

This is such a complicated issue! Many readers have written to say that a power of attorney or power of medical attorney document is really what you need and not legal guardianship. I am checking in with attorneys in Minnesota to find out what the deal is in our state and will report back once I am finished doing my homework. Thank you to everyone for your comments!!!
Jacque

11 08 2009
Niki

This is the exact issue that pushed me to seek out other stepmoms. I’m afraid my fiance and I both thought that our liminal state would be resolved once we married. The truth was brought home to us recently. My stepson (son of my fiance, but we’ve lived together for over 2 years now and I have played a strong parental role) has been struggling with learning issue which we finally got evaluated (after lots of pushing by me, who had no legal right to initiate anything). When I tried to obtain information from a previous doctor in order to follow up on the evaluator’s suggestion for medical care, it was Mom who brought up the fact that I was not entitled to that information. This is when I looked into laws across the United States and discovered that marriage to my stepson’s father means absolutely nothing in the eyes of the law.

Some states are better and some are worse (for example, Massachusetts recently passed a law allowing stepparents to authorize medical care), but none have really caught up with the times. My understanding of the law (at least in California) is that education is a bit different from medicine, so the main limitations for stepparents come in signing medical waivers or petitioning the district for special-needs evaluation. So, I guess my impending marriage will count for something (it’s very hard to get people to take you seriously when you are “dad’s girlfriend”).

I am eagerly awaiting your post on Power of Attorney and Legal Guardianship. I do think that legal guardianship is ideal, but there are plenty of us for who it is not really an option. Legal guardianship is useless in my case because Mom has 50% (physical and legal) custody, and is absolutely protective of the title “Mom.” There is no way in the fiery pits of hell that she would consider agreeing to allow me to be a legal guardian. That said, I’m not really sure what the Power of Attorney should say or how to get it or how/when to wield it.

24 08 2009
Kate

Not a legal issue, but just lodging another complaint about the ways in which stepfamilies are not recognized despite their prevalence today:
After marrying my husband and becoming a stepmother, I went to update alumni records from my college – there’s a space in the directory to list spouse’s name and children’s names, but no mechanism in the online directory for listing stepchildren’s names. So I’m supposed to list my biological children but not my stepchildren, as if they don’t exist in our family unit? They are very much a part of our family and the last thing I want is for them to see some un-official listing that would give them the impression that they are any less important or less loved than my biological children.

25 08 2009
Jacque

Ladies,
I’d like to point out a major mistake I made. This is what I wrote in this post that was wrong, wrong, wrong: “Even though I really wanted to tell her off I knew it wasn’t this librarian’s fault. It is a policy.” It was this librarian’s fault. It was her interpretation of what family means. It was not the policy of the library at all. This is just as scary as the legal mess the country is in with regards to stepfamilies because it means that stepfamilies are being discriminated against every day in our country.

31 08 2009
Sue

I helped raise two stepchildren from diapers to their 20s now. After two years of marriage, I took my husband’s last name. Since we all had the same last name, I often let people assume, or explicitly stated, that I was their “mother”. I’m sure this saved me issues along the way. I was able to make medical decisions and sign my stepson out the hospital on one occasion. Looking back, I realize that this may not have been completely “legal” but I was not going to let anyone limit my authority or endanger the well-being of these children that were as much “mine” as either of their biological parents.

5 09 2009
Kim

I feel that stepmoms have to stand united and need as much support as they can possibly get. In our (at least my) marriage I are used as a tool of convenience from my husband and his ex-wife. We take care of the kids, yet decisions of discipline second guessed from the husband, in-laws, and ex spouses!!! We’re nurturing enough to do the mommy duties but not deemed legally worthy for being held accountable for the children. My husband and I have joint custody of my stepdaugher but she lives in home. I can’t take her to the dr. and sign parental consent (even though I carry the health insurance), but am the one who cares for her daily! I took my biological sons to the doctors office and when confirming my address they listed my husband’s ex wife’s address! She doesn’t visit our drs office and I’m blind sided as to how our information could’ve gotten changed without my consent.
My husband doesn’t want to get the legal guardianship papers signed because it may upset his ex-wife! We give the ex 1/2 of the child tax credit but she lives with us! I feel like not just the government views us(stepmoms) as “not real family” but society spreads the stigma that step parents shouldn’t really have a voice.

12 11 2010
SJayne

My son’s father and step-mom barely see them and they still want control. They cancel a lot, and he is always away. She recently decided they can’t afford child support so while he isn’t working, she wants to get a POA so she can make changes to the child support order.

Look, not all bio-mom’s are perfect, but not all step-mom’s are either. You have all different situation where you are custodial parents… the POA is a BAD idea for step mom’s who rarely see their step children, it’s more of a tactic to gain more control.

Sorry.

12 11 2010
SJayne

I just read up on legal guardianship and it is not in place of parenting. It is just someone who takes over the financial, educational, etc end of things for the child. It is more of an advocate for the child. And if you become a legal guardian it says (at least in PA) that you may have to pay child support as well (the step-parent). My fiance will become my child’s step father- i was looking up ways that, when i cant, he can take my child to the dr, etc…

I read that one woman (a step mom) took a step son to the dr asked for certain procedures to take place (that shouldn’t have because the child was on medication that she knew of- but she forgot what it was called- OH and the dr was in another city-so no records on the child) and it counteracted with the child- the bio mom sued the dr- it ended up that the dr gave out some private info to the step mom and it was a HIPAA violation.

Anywho, many of you who are step mom’s in the custodial household- I feel for you!

2 10 2011
Marie

My step daughter lives with my husband and I 95% of the time. I take my daughter to school everyday, take her to her doctor’s appointments, swim class, do her homework with her, etc. Her father and I provide her with stability and love. I too understand what it is like to take a child into my home and my heart only to be told by society that I am not as important as a biological parent. “Oh, you’re her step mom.” Right. I can be vomited on at 2 in the morning, do her laundry, make her meals, support her through her stumbles and successes, but I can not sign a field trip form for her school. At the end of the day, it is her mother’s loss that she has all but walked away from this amazing child. I love her and it doesn’t matter what society thinks. She and I know in our hearts that we are family and that I would walk through fire for her. That is an unconditional love she will never have from her biological mother. Biology without responsibility or commitment does not outweigh a loving step parent.

11 04 2012
Kim

As a bio mom and dealing with a step parent situation, I’m happy to see the overwhelming support and love step parents have for their step children. It is commendable to read these stories and to know my child is or will be taken care of. However, from a bio mom’s point of view and in reading all these comments, the one theme that’s consistant is a step parent fighting for same thing the bio parent is fighting to keep. Should this be happening? We are all fighting to prove our worthiness as a parent? I agree that step parents spend an enormous amount of time with their step child, creating ever lasting bonds, and playing a supporting parental role with their step child. However, if my son is in trouble, needs immediate medical attention, or there are concerns with a school, daycare, or extra cirricular activity, I want to know, should be one of the first to know, and be part of or the decision maker. This right should not be taken from me. I also have a very close bond with my child, deeper than a step parent, and to have an unrelated individual take that right from me is mind boggling. I agree, it’s not fair when the bio moms or dads are not involved with the child and the step parent has no legal rights. However, there are situations where the step parent feels they should have the same rights as the bio moms and dads and conducts business without communicating to the other bio parent. This is my situation. My son’s dad and his wife are making educational and psychological treatment decisions for my child and have refused to involve me or to communicate these matters to me. Letting my son’s step mom have a POA to legally make these decisions will only create a larger co-parenting gap which means deeper psychological damage to our son. Is this what step parents really want? Both bio parents should be involved in the child’s life and play active roles. Step parents are there to support the bio parents. If bio parents can not be reached in a critical situation, then yes the step parent should be allowed to step in given bio parents have previously agreed. Also, step parents should not view a “you’re not the child’s bio parent so you can not…..” situation as a personal attack on their worthiness as a step parent or a blended family.

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