Family & Law

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Access_open More than two parents?

Divorced and separated parents’ attitudes toward parental responsibility and legal parenthood of stepparents in the Netherlands

Authors Anne-Rigt Poortman
AbstractAuthor's information

    More and more children in the Netherlands grow up in stepfamilies and stepparents may play an important role in children’s lives. Stepparents have had relatively few legal rights, yet the strengthening of their legal position – as well as of other parental figures – has been an ongoing public and political issue in Dutch society. Little is known about how parents actually think about parental rights for stepparents. Using large-scale Dutch survey data from 2020, this study described divorced and separated parents’ attitudes toward parental responsibility and legal parenthood of stepparents in stepfamilies. In addition, the study explored how support for these rights depended upon people’s own (step)family situation and the role of conflict in these associations. Results showed that a minority of parents supported legal rights for stepparents. About a third of parents thought that resident stepparents should be able to get partial parental responsibility compared to 8% in favour of full parental responsibility for these stepparents. Support for rights of nonresident stepparents and for legal parenthood of stepparents was lower. Support levels were found to be dependent on parents’ own experiences with stepparenting, particularly in case divorced parents had much conflict with their ex-partner. Parents with full-time resident children and those with a new partner (especially a spouse) were more supportive, whereas parents whose ex-partner had a new partner and family as well as those who had nonresident stepchildren living part time or full time with the ex-partner of their new partner showed less support. Overall, the results suggest that support for establishing legal rights for stepparents is not self-evident among divorced and separated parents and that views on stepparent rights likely differ between different parental figures, even more so in high-conflict situations.

Anne-Rigt Poortman
Anne-Rigt Poortman is a professor at the Sociology department of Utrecht University (Chair: Family diversity and life course outcomes). She has specialized in family sociology and social demography. She is particularly interested in divorce and repartnering, postdivorce residence arrangements of children, new relationship types, and legal aspects of partner relationships. Currently she is the program leader of a large data collection (New Families in the Netherlands; NFN) and related VICI research program about postdivorce family diversity and outcomes for children and parents.