One of those issues that creates consent problems between ex-spouses with children, or even those who are living with new partners, are what the children call the new significant other. Few things create such annoyance and anger than when a child refers to their stepparent as “mom” or “dad”. What are the rights of the parent who hears about this and wants it to stop?
Reactions have been mixed in the past. The general feeling was that “Mom” and “Dad” should be reserved for the biological parent. However, the law in New Jersey was never really settled on this issue.
Although not a higher court decision, a case just decided in Ocean County, New Jersey gives guidance to what the answer may be. The mother of an eight year old strenuously objected to her son calling his step-mother “mom”. After much debate, the Court found that when two parents divorce and one remarries a child may wish to call a stepparent by either their first name or by “mom” or “dad” or a derivative of those words. The test that the court utilized was whether or not the child was sufficient age and maturity to know the difference between who was his or her biological parent and who are their stepparents. That choice belongs to the child and not to the parent according to the Court. Neither parent can force the child against their will to refer to their stepparent in any particular manner.
The Court went onto to say that there is really no harm to the mother since the parties shared joint legal custody of the child. All major parenting decisions are to be made by both parents and certainly not by a stepparent. Nonetheless, the stepparent has the right to assist the parent with whom he or she was partnered in helping raise the child and in such capacity could potentially play an important ongoing and positive role in the child’s upbringing in life. Therefore, the child referring to the stepparent as mom or dad is not inappropriate.
Undoubtedly, this will cause tremendous consternation in many parents. However, it is also a recognition of how our social lives and society have changed.
For issues dealing with custody, parenting time, or any marital difficulty and problem, consult with the Family Law Department of Cooper Levenson, P.A. to be able to have all important questions answered.