What rights do stepparents have?
In the UK, stepparents do not automatically have parental responsibility for their stepchildren
They cannot make decisions about a child's education, medical care or living arrangements, as these decisions are typically made by individuals with parental responsibility.
Also, they will not automatically gain parental responsibility by marrying the biological parent they are in a relationship with.
However, a stepparent can acquire parental responsibility through a formal agreement or court order, similar to unmarried fathers who are not on the child’s birth certificate. Once acquired, stepparents have the same duties and responsibilities as biological parents.
Stepparents are not legally obligated to make financial contributions towards their stepchild’s life. They also have no legal right to be involved in decisions about a child's schooling and medical treatment unless parental responsibility has been obtained.
The process for acquiring parental responsibility as a stepparent includes:
1. Parental Responsibility Agreement: If the stepparent marries the child’s parent who has parental responsibility, they can enter into a parental responsibility agreement with each person who has parental responsibility for the child, normally this is both biological parents.
2. Court Application: If the stepparent cannot acquire agreement from all persons with parental responsibility, they can apply to court to deal with this specific issue. The court will decide whether it is in the child’s best interests for parental responsibility to be granted to the stepparent.
3. Child Arrangements Order: A stepparent can obtain a Child Arrangements Order in which they are named as the person with whom the child lives. This automatically grants parental responsibility to the stepparent for as long as the order remains in force.
If a stepparent divorces the biological parent, they do not have an automatic legal right to see the child, unless they have officially adopted the child. It is important to note that there is no presumption of continued parental involvement when it comes to stepparents, and their rights to see the child after divorce are not automatic.
If a stepparent wishes to retain contact with the child after divorce, they can consider court Proceedings by applying for a Child Arrangements Order, which determines where the child is to live and with whom they spend their time. When a stepparent applies for a Child Arrangements Order, the court will consider all the relevant circumstances before making a decision.
If a stepparent acquired parental responsibility while in a relationship with the biological parent this may have a positive impact on court proceedings if the stepparent decides to seek a court order that allows them to see the child.
However, court proceedings are stressful, costly, and lengthy. Family mediation is a way the parents can come together to discuss what is in the best interests of the child. Children may have strong bonds with a stepparent and want to see them after any divorce or separation. If the child is ten or older, the family mediator can also meet with them to obtain their views about what they would like to happen moving forward. If you have any questions about the family mediation process and how it can help you or your family call us on 0800 206 2258 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.