Given how common second marriages and blended families have become, you would think that there would be a clearly defined set of rules for when a step-parent becomes financially responsible for the biological child of their ex spouse or partner.
In general, if an individual voluntarily assumes responsibility for a step-child (and treats the child like one of their own), they could end up having to pay child support even in circumstances where there are 2 biological parents already contributing financially to that child’s welfare.
A court will not order the table amount of child support from the biological parent, and then also order the table amount of support from the step-parent. Rather, it will try and apportion the child support obligations fairly between the two of them. Section 5 of the Child Support Guidelines enumerates the factors a court will consider in making this determination.
A court will be inclined to order close to the table amount of support for a step-parent if their relationship with the step-child is longstanding, if the biological parent either can’t pay table support or doesn’t have a history of paying, or if the child previously enjoyed a high standard of living with the step-parent. In cases where the biological parent is not able to provide adequate support, the step-parent is exposed to even greater liability.
In Durden v. Durden, the parties had been together for 20 years and the wife had brought a young child with her into the relationship that her husband treated like his own child. When they separated, the child’s biological father had been paying $500 per month in table support. The step father was not ordered to pay table support based on his income- which would have been $472 a month- but was ordered to pay the reduced amount of $300 per month.