Step families are more common now.
If someone significantly features in a child’s upbringing along with one or both biological parents, how can that relationship be recognised? Do step parents have legal rights?
If you’re connected to the child, you can apply for step parent parental responsibility.
Please note: the following information only relates to children whose birth was registered in England and Wales.
What Is Parental Responsibility?
Parental responsibility is everything to do with bringing up a child. It is all the duties and obligations you have towards a child as a parent.
At the most basic level of parental responsibility, until the child is 18, you must provide food, shelter, safety and maintain the child and you are responsible for education, religion, discipline, medical treatment and where they live.
The Children Act 1989 sets out a legal definition of parental responsibility.
Who Has Parental Responsibility?
A mother automatically has parental responsibility. A biological father will have parental responsibility if:
- He was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth or married her subsequently; or
- He is named on the child’s birth certificate; or
- He has the benefit of a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Court Order granting him parental responsibility
Same-sex partners who were married or civil partners will both have parental responsibility.
Any adult can have parental responsibility for a child if they were appointed legal guardian of the child in the will of a parent with parental responsibility and that parent is deceased. In certain circumstances, parental responsibility may be shared with the Local Authority (but that is usually when the child has been subject of care proceedings).
More than two adults can have parental responsibility, so if you’re a step parent, you may be able to get step parent rights.
What Are Step-Parent Parental Rights?
It’s common for parents to marry or enter a long-term relationship with someone who is not their child’s biological parent.
Step parents can develop a strong bond with the child and play an important role in their life. But legally, the step parent has no standing when it comes to decisions about the child’s upbringing – this even includes the signing of consent forms for school.
Step parent parental responsibility can’t be acquired by simply marrying the child’s biological parent.
Previously, step parent rights were only acquired by legally adopting the child, or by obtaining a Residence Order from the Court. But now, step parental responsibility can be obtained for a child in very specific circumstances, including:
- When the Court makes a Child Arrangements Order that the child lives with the step parent, either on their own or with another person. However, these types of ‘step parent’ orders are uncommon.
- When the step parent adopts a child which puts him/her in the same position as a birth parent.
- When the Court has made a Parental Responsibility Order following an application by the step parent.
- Through the signing of a step parent Parental Responsibility Agreement, to which all other people with parental responsibility consent
On acquiring step parental responsibility, a step parent has the same duties and responsibilities as a biological parent.
Same sex partners in a registered civil partnership or marriage can also obtain parental responsibility by Agreement or a Court Order.
How to Get a Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement
There are two simple conditions for obtaining a Step Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement:
- You must be married to the biological parent with whom the child lives
- You must have the signed consent of every person with parental responsibility for the child
That means if the other parent of the child is living and has parental responsibility, they must agree to you acquiring the same parental responsibility. They must cooperate in the Agreement being approved by the Court, not just the parent you’re married to.
You must also be able to provide your marriage certificate showing you’re married to the child’s parent. The child’s parent is obligated to supply the child’s full birth certificate. Where there is another parent with parental responsibility, they must present proof. Finally, all parties to the Agreement must provide photographic evidence of identity (e.g. passport or driving license).
What If the Other Parent Won’t Agree to the Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement?
It can be a contentious issue when other people are involved in the upbringing of your children. The idea of sharing parental responsibility with your former spouse or ex-partner’s new spouse may not sit comfortably and may be viewed as an attempt to marginalise them in their own child’s life.
If that parent’s agreement is not forthcoming, but you and your spouse believe that by you having step parent parental responsibility that is in the child’s best interests, you can apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
If you need more information on how to apply to the Court, you should seek legal advice; contact us today for help. We offer a FREE 40-minute initial consultation.
Effects of a Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement
Here’s what it doesn’t do:
- It doesn’t remove parental responsibility from the absent biological parent
- You don’t get a greater say than the absent parent in the child’s upbringing (but it does give you an equal say)
- It doesn’t make you liable to pay maintenance for the child
- If you separate from the child’s parent/move out, it doesn’t give you an automatic right to see the child
What a Step Parent Agreement does do is give you the same legal rights and obligations in relation to raising the child as the biological parent or parents.
What If I Change My Mind About Step-Parent Rights?
Once you have step parent parental responsibility, whether by Agreement or Court Order, it can only end in the following ways:
- if you or any other person with parental responsibility obtains a Court Order
- if the child (with the permission of the Court) applies for an Order
- when the child reaches 18