11 Kids and the Law Families: Rights and Responsibilities Families are very important.They provide essential caretaking for children and are the primary source of physical and emotional support and nurturance. It is within the family that children learn basic social skills. What is a family? Traditionally a family has consisted of a group of persons related by blood or by marriage, most often married parents and their children. Today many peo- ple who live together as families may or may not be legally related. While mar- riage and divorce are defined and recognized by the law, other relationships where people live together even for a long time may not be legally recognized. The rights and responsibilities of people in relationships that are not legally recognized are not always defined by law. What do we mean by “parents or guardians?” In this guide the term “parents or guardians” refers to relationships recognized by law, such as birth parents (regardless of their age), adoptive parents, or legal guardians. Although stepparents (husbands or wives of parents) may be very important in children’s lives, they have no legal relationship to their spouses’ children and cannot take the place of the legally recognized parent or guard- ian. The father of a child born outside of marriage has rights, but these rights may not be legally recognized unless he and the mother sign an Acknowledg- ment of Parentage indicating that he is the father, or until a court determines that he is the father. Who has custody of a child? Children born to a married couple are in the custody of both parents. (This is true even if the parents are the same gender and only one is biologically related to the child.) Families: Rights and Responsibilities 1 1