A parent’s remarriage often raises questions about how the inclusion of a new person into the household might affect child support arrangements. The presence of a new stepparent can influence financial dynamics through the addition of income, new assets and increased costs if stepchildren also enter the picture.
Despite this, the normal policy in Washington is that child support obligations remain primarily between the biological parents.
Stepparents have no legal responsibility to financially support their stepchildren unless they legally adopt the children. When a stepparent does adopt his or her stepchildren, he or she becomes fully legally responsible for them. The law then treats them similarly to biological parents with regard to custody and support. A new stepparent is not a reason in itself to change existing child support arrangements.
However, if a parent asks the court to stray from the child support guidelines when calculating child support for a reason other than the new stepparent’s income, the court may choose to look at the stepparent’s income as a factor when making a decision. An example where this factors in is if the new income lowers the amount of household expenses the parent is responsible for. Washington stepparents do bear legal liability for helping to financially care for stepchildren living in their houses, as outlined in statute RCW 26.16.205.
If the marriage between the biological parent and the stepparent ends in divorce, the situation can become more complicated. Generally, the stepparent still has no obligation to pay child support after divorce unless he or she legally adopted the child. During divorce proceedings, a court may impose a child support obligation on stepparents. This typically ends once the divorce goes through, and stepparents may request the dissolution of any such obligation.
According to the United States Census Bureau. there were an estimated two million stepchildren in the nation in 2021. In blended families, the law does not normally require stepparents to pay child support for unadopted stepchildren.