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Can a Judge Determine What a Child Calls His Stepparent?

Life post divorce can be complicated for families. Parents have to adjust to living in different houses, and children often have to go back and forth between them. There may be animosity between the parents, but they have to try to put on a happy face for the sake of the children. This can be made even more difficult when a parent begins dating, or gets engaged to a new person, as it brings a new dynamic to an already challenging situation.

In a recent case out of New Jersey, a mother was upset that her son was beginning to call his father's fiancé "Mom." Judge settles dispute over whether a child can call a stepparent 'Mom', by Debra Cassens Weiss,, December 18, 2015. In that case, the parents shared legal custody over the eight year old, but the father had primary physical custody. The mother framed the issue as one of "parental decision making," which the parties shared. In addition to not wanting her child to call his stepmother "Mom," the mother did not want the stepparent involved in parental decisions.

In ruling against the mother, the Judge held that the child should make his own decision on what to call his stepmother, stating, "At this challenging point in his growth and development, [the child] certainly does not need his parents, or a stepparent, or the court, hoisting further unnecessary burdens upon his fragile shoulders by micromanaging his words or thoughts, or commanding him how to address his stepparent in order to please his mother or father." As far as the decision-making issue, the court held that the father can consult his fiancé, but the mother and father must make all final decisions together.

While it is understandable that the mother is hurt by the child's decision to call his stepmother "Mom," the Judge in this case makes a good point: the child is already going through a lot and there is no need to add to the stress by forcing additional burdens upon him. At eight years old, he needs to be able to make some decisions for himself, especially given the fact that he did not choose the divorce or the major life changes that come along with it. Keep this case in mind if you are upset with a minor issue after a divorce. In order to hopefully lessen the stress felt by a child after his parents divorce, sometimes you need to just let things go. It may hurt, but it will be better for everyone in the long run.


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