Stepfamily Policies and Laws in the United States: Lessons from the West. By: Stewart, Susan D.; Timothy, Elcy E. Journal of Family Issues. Jul2020, Vol. 41 Issue 7, p891-912. 22p.

Although stepfamilies exist in some form in nearly every country in the world, they are most common in Western countries. This paper provides a summary of laws, policies, and programs pertaining to stepfamilies in a selection of Western countries, with a special focus on the United States. Although stepfamilies have been prevalent throughout the West for decades, they remain “incompletely institutionalized,” and governments have been slow to address their needs and concerns. There is large variation across Western countries with respect to how stepfamilies are treated under the law, with some countries employing more liberal definitions of “parents,” “children,” and “families,” than others. In contrast, stepfamilies in the United States must contend with a complex and conflicting set of federal laws, state laws, and court precedents. Their legal status is uncertain and the way stepfamilies are treated is inconsistent across social programs and policies. Overall, there is clear bias against stepfamilies within most U.S. institutions. The review includes recommendations for change that would enhance stepfamily stability and quality of life in both Western and non-Western contexts.