The question often arises whether a stepparent has any responsibility to pay child support for their stepchildren. The general rule is that a stepparent has no duty to pay child support for their stepchildren. However, practically speaking, if your stepchildren do not reside in your home, i.e., if you and your spouse or partner do not have residential custody of your stepchildren, then income that would otherwise be devoted to your household is being paid out to the parent of primary residence. It should be made clear that the income that is being paid out, and upon which child support is being calculated is solely your spouse’s or partner’s income. For example, if you make $75,000 a year and your spouse or partner makes $50,000 a year for child support guideline purposes your household income is $50,000 a year. Similarly, if your household is the household with primary custody of your stepchildren your spouses ex is paying child support into your household based solely on their income and your spouse’s or partner’s income. Your income does not factor into the child-support equation at all. One exception to this rule is if you and your spouse/partner have a child, and your spouse/partner is paying child support to his or her ex. In this case you have a claim to deduct child support that your spouse/partner is “hypothetically” paying you for any child that you and your spouse/partner have together. Sounds confusing? What I’ve just described is called the other dependent deduction. It is a very useful deduction if your spouse/partner is paying child support and you have a child or children with your spouse/partner.
The Other Dependent Deduction
An example will help illustrate how the other dependent deduction is calculated and applied in a typical child support case. First, it should be pointed out that the other dependent deduction is only applicable in cases where your partner or spouse is paying child support and you and your partner/spouse have a child born or adopted of your relationship. If this is your situation the court allows you to deduct hypothetical child support that your spouse would be paying to you if you did not live together. This hypothetical stream of child support is calculated by using the child support worksheet. On the child support worksheet you are deemed the custodial parent and your spouse is deemed the noncustodial parent. Your incomes are plugged into the worksheet and the worksheet is utilized to come up with a bottom-line weekly hypothetical child support amount that your spouse/partner would be paying to you if you did not live together. This fictional amount that your spouse/partner is paying to you for his or her other dependent (your child together) is deducted from your spouse/partner’s weekly income in determining his or her income available for child support purposes for your stepchildren. So if your spouse/partner’s weekly income is $1000 and the hypothetical child support that they pay to you is $200 a week their weekly income available for child support to be paid for your stepchildren is $800 per week.
It should be noted that if you have a child from a prior relationship and your spouse/partner has a child from a prior relationship the other dependent deduction doesn’t apply. (The applicable deduction in this case is the amount that has been ordered, or agreed to, under a prior child support order or agreement).
Adoption of Stepchildren
The only scenario in which a step-parent can become economically liable for the support of a stepchild is if the step-parent takes the affirmative step of formally adopting their stepchild. The formal adoption process is a court process which requires termination of the natural parent’s rights and the creation of a new parent-child relationship between the step-parent and step-child. Without this process taking place there is no grounds for support to be ordered between step-child and step-parent.
If you have any questions about economic support for step-children give me a call at 201-731-3086 (toll-free at 844-431-3380), or email me using the email contact form. I’ve been practicing family law, and representing clients in child support cases for over 20 years. My client base is drawn primarily from Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Hudson, Union and Middlesex counties. The initial consultation with my office, whether by email or telephone, is free of charge.