Family units no longer always comply with the traditional definition. They may not be simply made up of a mother, father, and biological children. Family units might include stepchildren, step-parents, and a parent’s new partner who isn’t quite sure if they are a part of the family unit they are. Things can get even messier when these new relationships end.
While a person’s obligation to their biological child seems obvious, a step-parent’s obligation to a child that is not their biological child is a more complicated issue. Such an issue might be raised in the following situation: Samantha and Max are a couple in a loving relationship. Samantha had a young child from a previous relationship, which Max accepted. The two married and raised Samantha’s child together. After 5 years they realized the relationship wasn’t working and decided to separate. Samantha asked Max to pay child support, but Max refused, arguing that since the child was not biologically his, he did not have any legal obligation to do so. In this situation, Max might be considered to be standing “in loco parentis”. This term, meaning “in place of a parent”, may be used if a person has acted like a parent towards a child, as if that child was their biological parent. Essentially, in the eyes of the law, the person will be seen as being the child’s parent, a standing that may apply to both parental rights, such as custody and access, as well as child support obligations. While in some situations it may seem clear that a person is acting like a parent towards a child, making a loco parentis claim is not always easy to establish.