Step Parents

When a family breaks up and a couple separates it can be a traumatic time for the child. While setting up home with a new partner may be beneficial for the child it will take time for the relationship to work. It is well known that there is a much higher rate of divorce among people who have married for the second time, than there is with first marriages. A step parent does not automatically have parental responsibility, no matter how much contribution and financial aid they put towards the child’s upbringing.

Under the law, a step parent has no rights where their step children are concerned. Even if you have mothered or fathered a step child from babyhood you are not their legal parent. If you want your partner who is a step parent to your children to have parental responsibility then he or she must apply to the court. Prior to 2005 it was a lot harder for a step parent to be awarded any rights with regards to step children, but since then the step parent can apply for a parental responsibility order. When a step parent looks after a child in the absence of a mother, they cannot give permission for any medical treatment if the child has an accident, because they do not have parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility involves all of the things that you are responsible for when you have a child, including their health, education, where they live, and their property. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility, as do married fathers. If you are seeking parental responsibility of a step child, then you should seek legal advice as a solicitor will be able to explain the best way of getting such and order and what parental responsibility entails. Even when a step parent applies to the courts for parental responsibility of a child, a court is unlikely to give them it unless the step parent has the signatures of those individuals who do have parental responsibility.

If the courts grant the step parent’s application for parental responsibility then he or she would be responsible for all the things that natural parents are responsible for. Just because you have parental responsibility for a child does not mean that you have an automatic right to contact with that child. You may go to court to obtain a contact order when you have parental responsibility, but that does not guarantee you contact with the child.

While the court does have powers to enforce a contact order, in some situations it is just unworkable. If the mother refuses to see the step parent, for whatever reason, and neither the courts nor the local social services department can offer a contact centre, then it is highly likely you will not see the child. Even though you may no longer have contact with the child, if you have parental responsibility you are still legally entitled to be consulted over the child’s health and education.