Custody & Step Children Discipline

by Very Concerned from Florida

What are my rights on discipline toward my step children? My fiance has two children (11 and 6) with his ex wife.

They come to our home for visitation every other weekend and the parents have shared custody and time sharing during the summer.

We have the kids two weeks at a time during the summer. The 11 year old and 6 year old have very little discipline, other than what their father gives them when they come to our home for visitations. It's the typical two sets of rules issue.

I myself have two teenagers (who ARE very disciplined) ~ For the most part, things couldn't be better when all six of us are together, certainly not perfect, but perfect would be boring!

However, we recently came across an issue for the first time in over a year of being a family where the 11 year old went home after his last visitation and told his mother that I threatened to hit him. First of all, let me just say I have NEVER made that type of accusation towards either of the children.

Being devastated and hurt, I have wondered all week what could possibly have made him do this. I am not a psychologist, but his mother has recently started dating after a long term break up with her fiance. Maybe her son feels "left out" or "put a side", as the new boyfriend has a son about 8 or so that has been taking up a lot of mom's attention. Which is what we heard about all weekend (how mom does this and that with the new boyfriend and his son).

Bottom line: Any punishment either of these children have ever received from me is in the form of a lecture or having them sit on the couch with a book. If things were to get to a point that a lecture wouldn't help, then I simply hand the task off to their dad and let him handle it.

So, now there is a HUGE wedge in our home from this accusation. I am now concerned, and a bit unwilling to even be in the same home with his children, in fear that these types of accusations can or will be made again.

There are times when their dad has to work on a day that we have custody of the children, that I keep the kids, and especially during the summer months when my 17 year old daughter would be watching them while we both work.

So now I worry that he may make these same types of accusations against my children. What rights do I have in my home as to how to properly discipline my fiance's children in his absence WITHOUT getting accused of chid abuse?
I'm at a total loss of thought and words at this point.

Answer to Florida Child Custody Question

Dear Very Concerned,

Unfortunately, the issue of step parenting and discipline is a commonly discussed issue throughout the United States.

For this reason, some Parenting Plans include verbiage on what step parents are allowed to do or not allowed to do in the name of discipline.

However, this generally only includes corporal punishment.

I think the first step you should take is to talk this over with your husband/partner, review the current parenting plan that is in place, and ask him what you should or should not do in regards to disciplining his children.

You would have to worry about child abuse if there is any actual abuse going on. However, what you've stated here say does not constitute abuse.

What constitutes child abuse?

Florida statutes define child abuse as the willful or threatened act resulting in physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm, causing or likely to cause impairment of physical, mental, or emotional health.

If suspected, this is reported to the Department of Children and Family Services. Once a case is reported, the office will determine whether to investigate or not to investigate.

Since children often get mad at one parent or another, they will make false accusations, especially to the other parent for various reasons, some of which you have already stated.

While it is unlikely that an investigator will take up the case of a child that claims to be threatened, if a case is filed, just be honest and explain everything from your perspective.

Without any evidence of child abuse, it is highly unlikely that you would be convicted of a 1st degree misdemeanor. However, if you are formally accused and actively being investigated, get legal advice ASAP.

Ultimately, this is a situation that should be between the father and the mother. If the mother suspects of a possible problem, she should begin by discussing it with the child's father and seek to remedy the situation.

If they cannot agree, she can seek to modify the parenting plan through the courts to define what punishment is or is not allowed by either stepparent in this situation. This recourse is also available to the child's father.

Notice: We provide these answers to the general public and our website visitors as a means to further their online legal research. These answers are merely suggestions and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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Minimum Requirments for Children 5 & 8
by: Anonymous from Volusia County

The mother feels its fine for the children girl (5) and boy (8) to sleep in same bed. They have different rooms at her house but her brothers use the house as a 1/2 way house. My children loose their rooms and have to sleep together. And share their room during with the brothers. This happens all the time, week to months. We have 5050 visitation week on week off. My question is what is the standard housing requirement to have children in you house.

--I don't know of any standard housing requirements except for maybe that at a minimum there is a safe, nurturing environment maintained in the household. The living arrangements is something that you two will have to work out yourselves. If you feel there is abuse going on, or the potential for abuse, I would contact DCF right away. --Staff

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