Alicia Keys wants to be the cool stepmom, but should she?
The much-loved singer Alicia Keys has recently been called out for overstepping her parental rights as a stepmom. Here we ask local experts to share what a stepparent's legal rights are in South Africa.
Alicia Keys PHOTO: Gallo/Getty Images
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Whether biological, adopted, married into or honorary, family is family. And no one knows this better than US star, Alicia Keys. 

The Fallin' singer is married to fellow musician Swizz Beatz (whose real name is Kasseem Dean) and the couple have two sons, Egypt and Genesis. 

Alicia is also stepmother to Swizz's three children from previous relationships; sons Prince Nasir and Kasseem Jr., and daughter, Nicole.

No doubt inspired by her unique family reality, Alicia released a sweet single back in 2016 titled Blended Family (What You Do For Love), featuring heartwarming images of families of all types, including her own. 

Still, blended families are not immune to problems, and as the much-loved singer recently learned; navigating the sometimes intricate dynamics of a blended family comes with its own set of challenges. 

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Overstepping boundaries

According to the mother of one of Alicia's stepchildren, Jahna Sebastian, the singer's attempts to be the cool stepmom have not been well received. 

Posting a long read to her Instagram account, Jahna recently called out Alicia for allegedly gifting her 11-year-old daughter, Nicole, with a mobile phone over the December holidays, despite having shared her feelings about keeping her preteen away from social media. 

The UK-based Jahna added that Alicia had violated both US and UK laws by signing a mobile contract on behalf of her minor daughter. 

And although Jahna had not specifically used Alicia's name in the post, when asked by a follower, Jahna confirmed she was referring to the US star.  

For the purpose of length, we've included a shortened version of the post below: 

"Nicole [has lived] in the UK with me her entire life, and I am the one raising her on a daily basis. 
"The stepparent is not raising my child... This 'stepparent' got [a mobile phone] in the US that she controls for my daughter... without my consent.
"Mobile phone companies require the parent to sign contracts to obtain mobile phones for their children as there are multiple laws in place to protect the child's privacy. 
"A stepparent... does not have any legal rights to give consent, sign paperwork or online agreements on behalf of the child and must consult the parent. 
"Even schools require parental consent for the children to use computers during lessons. It has never been done in this case, nobody asked for my permission... 
"Furthermore, this stepparent has violated my recent decision to temporarily restrict Nicole's access to some social media like TikTok for disciplinary purposes... 
"As soon as Nicole travelled to the US, I found out that her TikTok account had been restored without my consent.

"I am very careful about social media as it can be both uplifting and mentally challenging for a child.

"I have succeeded in that for a long time, but then after the last trip, I received my child back who was obsessed with social media, likes, and followers..." 

Jahna has since been criticised for taking a private family matter online, and as we all know, there are always two sides to a story. 

Writing in response to Jahna's post, Swizz Beatz commented that the phone was not gifted but loaned to his daughter so that she could communicate directly with her mom. 

And while we hope the parties have resolved their family dilemma, it got us thinking about how this would play out in a South African context. 

What are a stepparent's legal rights in SA?

Reaching out to local legal services provider, LAW FOR ALL, we asked: What are stepparents' legal rights when it comes to signing contracts or giving parental consent on behalf of their minor stepchildren in South Africa?

"As a stepparent you don't automatically have legal parental responsibility for your stepchild," Legal Professional at LAW FOR ALL Khanya Mgciza told Parent24, adding that a stepparent does not have the legal right to "authorise medical care, apply for passports, sign school forms, and so on." 

Obtaining guardianship 

And while a stepparent's role in their stepchildren's lives is not automatically recognised by the law, Mgciza says that it is possible for a stepparent to obtain parental rights and responsibilities by making an application to become a child's guardian.  

In considering such applications, Mgciza advises, the court will always consider the best interests of the child in question, focusing on the following areas: 

  • the relationship between you (the stepparent), and your stepchild,
  • the degree of commitment that you have shown towards your stepchild,
  • the extent to which you have contributed towards the expenses of the birth and/or maintenance of your stepchild, and
  • any other factor which should, in the opinion of the court, be taken into account.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork 

Given that it is possible for a biological parent to oppose a stepparent's wish to take on a guardianship role, Mgciza strongly urges against using the court system as a means of settling disagreements between parental parties.

"This is due to the fact that once an application has been made final it may prove difficult to reverse." 

Ultimately, Mgciza says, coming to some sort of agreement with regards to raising a child is the best remedy for avoiding troubling situations. 

"One must bear in mind that the other parent can oppose such an application...  it is advisable that parents and other parties involved should have an agreement when it comes to matters concerning the minor child so to avoid situations where it may seem that the stepparent is overstepping the boundaries." 

What are some of the unique legal issues that have come from your family? Tell us your story. 

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Read more:

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"Alex and my kids are my everything": Jennifer Lopez and her new fiancé make life as a blended family look easy

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