If I Remarry, Can My Child Call My New Spouse “Mom” or “Dad”?
Dec 22, 2015 | Written by: Share|
According to a new, unpublished trial Court opinion issued by Judge Jones, the answer is yes. If the child is of sufficient age and maturity to distinguish between the biological and step-parent, the choice of how that child will address the step-parent belongs to the child and NOT to either parent. However, no one can force the child to call a step-parent "Mom" or "Dad" against the child's will, or forbid the child from doing so.
It is also important to note that Judge Jones carefully indicated that calling a step-parent "Mom" or "Dad” does NOT turn the step-parent into a parent. When parents share joint legal custody of a child, they are to continue to make all major parenting decisions. However, a step-parent may assist the parent in helping raise the child and may play an important role in the child’s life and upbringing.
As Judge Jones so poignantly stated, “What the parties’ child, Daniel, truly needs and deserves, more than anything else, is for his parents to stop fighting, and to hereinafter attempt to cooperate more productively with each other. While the child's mother, father, and step-mother may each genuinely want what is "best" for Daniel, they must all recognize and accept the reality that family court litigation can itself potentially wreak havoc with a child’s emotional health and well-being. As a year of courtroom battle between plaintiff and defendant finally draws to a close, the time is ripe for all adults involved in this matter to seriously consider the reality that through mutual respect, cooperation, flexibility, compromise and acceptance, they can all jointly promote the child's best interests by introducing peace and tranquility into his young life.”
As per most family law cases involving custody and parenting time, the outcome speaks to balance and the paramount need to ensure that the best interests of the child are met. Likewise, this case is about balancing the role of a step-parent with the rights of the biological parent.
Judge Jones specifically addresses this idea of “balance” by holding, “This does not in any way mean that in doing so, the step-parent somehow automatically becomes a “third” parent, or a psychological parent, or that she has the right to substitute her judgment, authority, and responsibility for that of either parent. Nor does this arrangement mean that defendant, as the child’s mother, is somehow forced to "co-parent" with the step-parent instead of the parent. Rather, the court’s decision stands in recognition that there is a valid and appropriate role for Lori, as an active step-parent, to serve in the limited but significant capacity of helping her partner carry out the heavy responsibility of parenting a child.”
Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters, which includes custody and parenting time matters. Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email. In 2015, Ms. Fredericks was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters, and to the 2015 New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal.