What Are the Limitations on Step-Parenthood?

Updated on July 17, 2012
J.H. asks from San Jose, CA
9 answers

Hi Mamas,

I posted a question about name change/adoption and was told I was misinformed (I did not know you can have a step child on your medical insurance). What are the practical limitations of being a step parent? Do I need a note for step dad to seek medical treatment (seems counterintuitive if it's his medical plan)? Can it have an indefinite time frame? I assume he can't enroll her in school or sign permission slips. What else?


ETA: Let me clarify. Does a step parent need a note from bio-parent to make medical decisions?

I'm mainly interested in your experience to see what obstacles you have encountered...

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thanks for all of the responses! I should have been clearer... my SO children's are older and we are close to bio-mom so I doubt I will ever run into any problems as a step-mom. This question was in regards to my SO as step father to my daughter (4). Her bio-dad is not around, so, sadly, there is no collaboration (or conflict). I went backpacking last weekend and wrote a medical note. I realized I have not thought things through completely. We have been considering whether to pursue adoption now or wait a few years. I appreciate everyone who shared their perspective. Thanks again!

Featured Answers


answers from Chicago on


Maybe this will help. If you want said step parent to have rights then I think you would need legal guardianship.

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Las Vegas on

Hi J.,

I'm not sure if I'm getting this exactly, but I can just share my experience, and maybe that will help.

I took my step-kids to the their medical appointments with no problem. I have never needed a note to seek treatment for them, but I can't say that this would be a universal in every case.

Most recently, when my step-son had his nose broken last year, I was the one to take him for his appointment with the surgeon and then to the hospital where I checked him in for surgery, signed all the papers, and answered all of the medical staff's questions prior to surgery.

I didn't need a note for any of this. His mom was fine with me taking him as she was working. My husband was also working. We were all there together, however, when he came out of recovery.

I have also been the one to sign permission slips, write absentee notes, and discuss my step-children's school issues with teachers. Again, no problems with any of these things.

That's been my experience. Maybe it all went smoothly because there is no discord between the adults involved. It might end up quite differently if there is contention between ex-spouses and/or between the ex-spouse and new spouse.

Hope this helps and you get the answer you need.

Best to you and your family.

J. F.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I am a step-parent.

Legally, I have no right to sign anything for my SD and have been "called" on it in several different situations.

One was a release for her to go rock climbing. I took her to the party not realizing that there was a waiver to sign. When I got there they refused to let her participate unless her mother or father SIGNED the waiver, and they wouldn't take their voiced permission for me to sign over the phone.

Another time I took her to a jumping place and they asked if I was her "legal guardian" and to avoid the same scenario I lied and said "yes."

I do try to have all permission slips and waivers signed by her father just in case. I have taken her to the doctor and dentist but I would never make any medical decisions without first consulting her mom or dad. We all have a great relationship, but that doesn't mean it's up to me to make any decision regarding her.

I do have a piece of paper signed and notarized saying I can take her to the hospital and make decisions in the case of an emergency AND if her father or mother cannot be reached. It's good to have if you are with your stepchild without the mother or father present.

I don't think you can enroll her in school--but you should be able to do lesser things. I enroll my SD in soccer, etc. I do make sure her dad signs the waiver though.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from La Crosse on

We have never had a problem letting the step parent do anything for our kids.

We have their names on the school listings and all doctor/ hospital listings as the step parents. They have taken our kids to the dr to seek medical attention. They have signed many permission slips. My kids step mom and my husband have done everything that myself and kids dad have. We have never been questioned on it.

I don't know about the insurance part of it though... my ex has the kids on his insurance so we have never had to put insurance on them through my husbands insurance.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

I took in my biologigal niece at ten days old. My company allowed insurance right away, they alalso allowed domestic partners to participate with insurance..I never had any issues long before adoption. With regards to school, I could have called her "humpty dumpty" and there would not have been any problem. I changed her name to ours long before adoption (you can change it long before that, same for medical care).

I'm in California as well so I don't anticipate any problems.

Good luck!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

For most practical purposes it depends only on WHOM and HOW you list parents when you enroll for things. When you enroll for school, you list your husband on the emergency card as step-father. Once he's on the card, he is allowed to take her from school etc., so that's handled. YOU would have to be the one to ENROLL her because that requires birth certificate and id, but beyond that it's up to you. Same for medical. He can add her as "step-child" at the same time he adds you as "spouse." As long as you then list him in emergency contacts, he's fine to take her to appointments etc.

You might need something more if you want him to be able to authorize non-routine treatment, but you can cross that bridge (or not) if it's an issue.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I see you are in California so I don't know California laws. My husband was able to have my children on his insurance (stepfather yes) he signed permission slips all the time and I believe once or twice when I was at work he traipsed the children and signed them up for all sorts of things. And I am assuming I am way older than you so by now the laws are definitely on your side. There are so many step family situations. Call the school if you are worried and tell them you will have stepfather sign the slips or write a letter. Check with his insurance company. But I spent a lot of years with my wonderful husband who did all of this, so I cannot imagine why California, who seem to have more liberal laws than we do would not be an integral part of helping you raise your children in a very happy family.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I would pass on to you that if you try to think like the mom is this situation would you want someone other that your ex or yourself making ANY decisions about your child without your knowing about it?

Most of us would say no way, no how, not going to fly. A step parent is an important part of a child's life and can be a wonderful positive influence. My ex's wife grew him into a wonderful caring adult. She was also a strong influence in my daughters life. She is an excellent house keeper because her step mom was able to teach her how to manage her belongings, not just yell at her to clean her room, she took time and taught her the organizational skills needed to do it well.

Step parents can have authority only if the biological parents agree that more is needed.

For instance if your hubby has custody of the child. He works 50-60 hours per week and you are home alone with the kids numerous hours per day. Of course you are going to expect support in disciplining them, taking them to the doc if they get sick, taking them to dental appointments, etc... If the bio mom is okay with that and hubby is okay with that then the docs office would only need dad and/or mom to sign a paper at that doc's office stating you have their permission to seek medical treatment for illnesses in their absence. if you have a local hospital that you routinely use in an emergency then I would have hubby call them and talk to the business office/records office and ask about their permission to treat paperwork. Most medical businesses have their own and they must be notarized to be legal.

This will protect you and give you a limited amount of authority to take care of the kids. Both of these parents should be involved in this so that it is not a surprise to the other one.

That is the kind way to go about this in my opinion.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Your question is very confusing. A child can be on a step parents health insurance because insurance goes by family. Husband/wife dependent children. Not very complicated really.

What I don't understand is all this permission slips and stuff. Do you mean do you have to have permission for the child to seek medical treatment, the answer is now, just as any spouse doesn't have to call the insured to get their child treated.

I will try to answer this as vague as the question. A step parent has no legal right to make any decisions for their step children. Even adding the kids to the step's insurance is a decision of the parent not the step.

After your update: Troy, my husband, could take any of the kids to the hospital and sign everything. If my ex chose to make an issue of it his signature is not binding. Most of the time steps aren't doing anything crazy so it is never an issue. For that matter most of the time exes aren't crazy so it is never an issue.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions