Until Massachusetts passed a new law this year, even though stepparents may provide emotional and financial support to their stepchildren, they had no legal rights with regard to them. They were not able to authorize medical, dental, or surgical treatment, sign permission slips for school activities, or make any other decisions that would enhance the child’s educational experience.
It seemed that the best a stepparent could hope for was to take the child to after school activites, cook dinner and clean house.
Not any more!
A new caregiver authorization process was signed into law in January 14, 2009. New Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 201F, permits a parent or legal guardian to authorize another person, with whom the minor child resides, to exercise joint responsibilities over the education and health care of the child. The parent can specify any rights that he or she does not want to give to the caregiver. If the parent and the caregiver conflict over a decision, the parent’s wishes are followed.
This new law provides a simple way for parents to give authority to any adult who lives with their minor child, including grandparents and other caregivers. But for the thousands of stepparents who have been providing a loving home for their stepchildren, the new law is also a way to give these stepparents the legal rights they deserve. And more importantly, by clarifying and maximizing the legal rights of stepparents in appropriate circumstances, the new law may protect and enrich the lives of their stepchildren.