Bringing the Step-parent Into the Family Law Case
Family law cases – child support, paternity, and divorce cases, for example – are generally disputes involving two parties: the parents or the separating spouses. It is rare for other “parties” to be brought into the family law case as direct participants. There is good reason for this: family law cases are already complex, and this complexity increases exponentially when other parties (and their attorneys) are added into the case. Notwithstanding the additional complexity that additional parties cause, sometimes adding additional parties is necessary to your divorce or custody case.
Adding the Stepparent as a Party
When you seek to add an additional party to your family law case, you must often obtain the permission of the court to do so. Before a court will grant this request, the party seeking joinder will need to provide the court with a sufficiently-compelling reason to allow the party to be joined.
Simply because the party sought to be joined is related in some way to a party already involved in the litigation (such as a stepparent or the new spouse of one of the parties) is not a sufficiently strong reason to support a request to have the party joined into the litigation. However, a step-parent may be joined as a party in a divorce or custody case where:
- The stepparent is abusing the child: Where evidence suggests that the stepparent is engaging in abusive behavior toward the child (whether physical, emotional, or sexual), a court is likely to allow the stepparent to be joined as a party to the case. This is one way by which the court can obtain jurisdiction over the stepparent, enter enforceable orders against the stepparent, and punish the stepparent for violating the court’s orders. Mere allegations of abuse are not sufficient, however – in order to support a motion to join the stepparent, there must be some objective evidence of abuse (recordings, photographs, reports from child welfare agencies, etc.).
- The step-parent is engaging in misbehavior: Sometimes a stepparent cannot stay out of the business of two divorced parents but instead tries to “sabotage” the relationship between his or her stepchildren and one of the parents. In order to put a stop to such misbehavior, the court needs to obtain jurisdiction over the stepparent (in much the same way as the court obtains jurisdiction over the stepparent to stop abuse from occurring to the children).
- The stepparent is contributing resources to one parent: Finally, a stepparent may need to be joined as a party in order for the court to have a full picture of his or her family’s finances for child support and/or spousal support purposes. If the stepparent is contributing a significant amount of income to his or her family – for example, if the stepparent is the only one with income and the parent to whom the stepparent is married has ceased working – the court may need to know the stepparent’s income and assets. In order for this to occur, the stepparent may need to be joined as a party to the litigation.
How To Join an Additional Party
As mentioned above, joining an additional party to the litigation is typically done at the court’s discretion. The party seeking to have the stepparent or other additional party joined must file a motion with the court that explains why the joinder is necessary. A hearing is then typically held at which the other party and/or the party proposed to be joined may object to the joinder request.
If the court believes that the joinder is necessary to enter orders in the best interest of the child, or if the court believes that the joinder will allow it to enter more appropriate and fair orders, the joinder request will be granted.