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The Parent Trap

View profile for Wendy Armstrong
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Do you know your rights as a step-parent?

In the ever changing landscape of society, it is now commonplace for parents of children to separate or divorce, making room for new relationships and sometimes, new roles. The idea of step-parents and step-children has become the norm, changing the face of what was once the traditional British nuclear family.

It is important then to consider whether step-parents have the same legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities as natural parents when it comes to caring for their step-children.

Parental Responsibility is a term used to describe the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities afforded to a parent of a child. Someone with Parental Responsibility can make decisions about a child’s education, medical treatment and religion etc. In addition, they can also instigate legal proceedings in relation to a child’s care.

Mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility for a child at birth, whereas fathers are only granted this privilege when they are married to the child’s mother at birth or are listed on the child’s birth certificate. If a child’s mother does not wish to include the father on the birth certificate, the natural father is able to make an application to court to be included. Step-parents, however, cannot simply obtain Parental Responsibility by marrying a child’s mother. Instead, they must either obtain the consent of everyone with Parental Responsibility and enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement, or make an application to the court for the judge to make an order.

A Child Arrangements Order is an order wherein the court stipulates with whom a child is to live and with whom they are to spend time with. If a step-parent becomes subject to a Child Arrangements Order as the person with whom a child is to live, Parental Responsibility will automatically be granted to them. This will remain until the order is lifted.

In addition to the above, a step-parent can also be granted Parental Responsibility when they are appointed a child’s legal guardian or special guardian.

Once a step-parent has obtained Parental Responsibility, this will be shared between all others with the same conferred right. This means that the inclusion of a step-parent in this way does not automatically bring to an end the responsibility of any other person. Even an absent biological parent will retain their Parental Responsibility unless this is expressly revoked by the court. Parental Responsibility is only revoked in very rare and exceptional circumstances.

If you, or someone you know would like any further information in relation to the content of this article, please contact a member of BakerLaw’s family department who will be happy to advise you further.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.