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Can You Stop Your Child From Calling His Step-Parent Mom or Dad?

For divorced parents, one of the hardest things to deal with and accept is the arrival of your exes' significant other into the life of your child.  The potential problems and concerns are almost too numerous to account for, although I have recently come across various articles written by divorced parents thanking their exes' significant other for the positive role they have played in their child's life.

Of course, these positive stories do not find their way into Court and into published decisions.  Instead, the highly litigious cases are what formulate our understanding of the law, creating a scenario where the question is not "what is best for my child" but rather "what are my legal rights."  

In a recent published trial court decision, when the question was raised as to whether a parent can stop a child from calling his step-parent mom or dad, the Court held as follows:

When two parents divorce and one remarries, a child may wish to call a step-parent either by first name, or by "Mom" or "Dad", or a derivative of these words. In this case, where the child is of sufficient age and maturity to distinguish between his or her biological parent and step-parent, the choice of which way to address the step-parent belongs to the child, and not to either parent. Neither parent may force the child to either call a stepparent "Mom" or "Dad" against the child's will, or forbid the child from doing so. 

The Court did add to its holding a very specific, yet important qualification as to the role of a step-parent:

If a child calls a step-parent "Mom" or "Dad", this action does not turn the step-parent into a parent. When two divorced and active parents share joint legal custody of a child, all major parenting decisions are to be made by the parents, and not by a step-parent. A step-parent, however, may assist the parent with whom he or she is partnered in helping raise a child, and in such capacity may potentially play an important, ongoing and positive role in a child's upbringing and life. 

Sometimes, the Courts actually further the best interests of all children of divorced parents by making a decision which will hopefully change the perspective of divorced parents when dealing with issues regarding their children.  When the answer to the question "what is best for my child" is the same as the answer to the question "what are my legal rights," the children benefit--and maybe parents start to change their perspective since the answer will be the same either way.

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