Step-Parent Rights and Obligations: Mel B's Ex Seeks Access to Eddie Murphy's Daughter
According to TMZ, Mel B's ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte is seeking the legal right to maintain a relationship with the daughter Mel B had with Eddie Murphy. Belafonte alleged that he has been a father in the life of the child since she was born and therefore has a right to visitation. Belafonte also argues that Eddie Murphy has not been overly involved in the child's life and it is in the best interests of the child to maintain her relationship with Belafonte.
In Canada, if Belafonte were to argue that he 'stood in the place of a parent' with respect to the child, a corresponding child support obligation may arise. For the purposes of child support, the Divorce Act defined 'child of the marriage' as follows:
2(2) Child of the Marriage - For the purposes of the definition "child of the marriage" in subsection (1), a child of two spouses or former spouses includes:
- any child for whom they both stand in the place of parents; and
- any child of whom one is the parent and for whom the other strands in the place of a parent.
Furthermore, The Supreme Court of Canada in Chartier v Chartier,  SCJ No. 79, held that a finding for a party to be "in the place of a parent" is after an accounting of factors relevant to that determination, viewed objectively. The relevant factors in defining the parental relationship include, but are not limited to:
- whether the child's participation in the extended family in the same way as would a biological child;
- whether the person provides financially for the child (depending on ability to pay);
- whether the person disciplines the child a parent;
- whether the person represents to the child, the family, the world, either explicitly or implicitly, that he or she is responsible as a parent to the child; and
- the nature or existence of the child's relationship with the absence biological parent.
Once it is shown that the child is considered to be a "child of the marriage", there is an obligation on the stepparent to provide support. However, the step-parent may also acquires certain rights, such as the right to apply for custody or access under section 16(1) of the Divorce Act. Ultimately, in Ontario, Belafonte may not be able to argue that he has a right to access the child without incurring support obligations as well.