Step Parent Responsibility

Quite often the biological parents of children may decide to terminate their relationship by way of divorce or separation; within this can in certain situations introduce step parent responsibility eventually. Following a divorce or separation the biological parents may decide to move on in their life and may begin new relationships. These new beginnings can change the makeup of the family, as a result of this stepfamilies are very common in this day and age. Due to this someone other than a biological parent may become responsible for the upbringing of a child alongside one or both the biological parents. Our family law specialists consider how the relationship of this new individual, who is not the biological parent, is recognised and discuss what legal rights stepparents have.

Article Contents

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is the term used to describe the legal rights a parent has over their child and refers to all the duties a parent has towards their child. A person who has parental responsibility can make key important decisions with regards to a child. These include decisions regarding the upbringing of the children, their education, their religion as well as changing their name and the medical treatment the children will receive. By holding parental responsibility over a child, you are responsible for meeting their basic needs such as food, accommodation, safety and are financially responsible for the child.

Who has parental responsibility over a child?

It is important to note that only the biological mother of a child will automatically acquire parental responsibility. A biological father will only acquire parental responsibility if they were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, are named on the child’s birth certificate or have been awarded parental responsibility through a parental responsibility agreement or through a court order.

What is a stepparent?

Step parents are people who have taken on the role of a parent to a child following either the divorce or separation of the parents, through a death of one parent or due to any other reason.

A Stepparent can be either a stepmother or a stepfather. According to the Oxford dictionary a stepmother is a woman who has married a child’s father but is not the biological mother. A stepfather similarly is a man who has married the mother of a child but is not the biological father.

Stepparent parental responsibility

Despite stepfamilies being very common and noting the very important role a stepparent may play in the life of a child, stepparents do not have legal rights over a child and neither do they automatically acquire stepparent parental responsibility. As a result, a stepparent without a stepparent parental responsibility will not legally have any rights to making key decisions concerning a child despite them carrying out day to day tasks for a child or being involved in their upbringing.   

To become a stepparent legally, a person must have to marry one of the child’s biological parents. Simply living together does not mean you will become a stepparent, even though you might be undertaking the stepparent role and be responsible for the upbringing of the child.

How do stepparents acquire stepparent parental responsibility?

Given that a stepparent does not automatically acquire a stepparent parental responsibility how can this be obtained? A stepparent can only acquire a stepparent parental responsibility in one of 4 ways which are:

  1. By adopting a child and obtaining the legal status of a stepparent together with the stepparent parental responsibility;
  2. Where the courts have made a child arrangements order in favour of the stepparent. Such orders are not very common although they still may be granted in exceptional circumstances;
  3. By reaching an agreement for stepparent parental responsibility with all individuals who already possess parental responsibility, or
  4. By way of acquiring a stepparent parental responsibility order.

How can I obtain a stepparent parental responsibility order?

In order to obtain a stepparent parental responsibility order you must make an application to the family courts. In order to commence the process for obtaining a step parent parental responsibility order you must first complete and submit the form C1 to the family court which is local to where the child resides. This application will attract a court fee of £215.00 which must be paid when making your application. When making an application for a stepparent parental responsibility order you must also complete and file the Family Mediation Information and Assessment meeting form which is also known as the form FM1.

Following an application for a stepparent parental responsibility order being made, the courts will inform and notify all individuals who hold existing parental responsibility of the child. This will allow the existing parental responsibility holders to consider your application for stepparent parental responsibility order and give them an opportunity to present their views or oppose the application if they wish. Once an application has been made to the family court for a stepparent parental responsibility order, it will ultimately be for the courts to make a decision on granting the stepparent parental responsibility order based on the best interests and welfare of the child.

If a stepparent parental responsibility order is made in favour of the stepparent, they will acquire parental responsibility over the child alongside the other parental responsibility holders and will hold the same rights on being legally responsible for the child and being able to take part in making key decisions concerning the child.

What are the responsibilities of a stepmother or stepfather?

A stepparent whether it is a stepmother or stepfather without stepparent parental responsibility, or a step parental responsibility has no responsibilities over a child. Despite them looking after the child, caring for a child or being responsible for their upbringing they attract no legal rights or responsibilities.

On the other hand, a stepparent who has acquired stepparent parental responsibility or have a stepparent parental responsibility order in place will have the same rights and responsibilities over their step child as a biological or natural parent. They will have all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority in relation to their stepchild and their property. It is important to note however that they will share these rights, responsibilities, and decision-making powers with all the people who hold parental responsibility. This means despite them having a say in the decision-making process, their decisions will not be final unless agreed by all parental responsibility holders.

Should stepparents go to teacher conferences?

A stepparent who holds step parent parental responsibility over a step child has as many rights over a child as a natural and biological parent. This is also acknowledged by schools in the UK. According to the government website school and local authority staff must treat all parents equally unless a court order limits a parents ability to make educational decisions.

Therefore, a stepparent with stepparent parental responsibility or a stepparent parental responsibility order in place will have the following rights:

  1. To receive information on the child’s education and progress, this includes access to school reports.
  2. Ability to participate in activities such as voting in elections for parent governors.
  3. Provide consent to activities such as taking part in school trips and other activities.
  4. Be informed about meetings which involve the child which includes teacher conferences, governors’ meetings and other meetings involving children.

Quite interestingly though a stepparent who does not possess stepparent parental responsibility or step parent parental responsibility order can still be categorised as a parent. Schools and educational institutions under Education Act 1996 section 576 classes anyone is not a parent but has parental responsibility or care of a child is seen as a parent.  Therefore, a stepparent who typically has care of a child and if they are the person whom the child lives with either full time or part time and looks after the child is classed as a parent. They would also have the ability to enjoy the above rights which a parent or stepparent with step parent parental responsibility will have.

Can a stepparent pick up a child from school?

A stepparent whether they have stepparent parental responsibility or not is able to pick up a child from school. The schools consider a person as a parent if they are the biological parent, are an adoptive parent, have step parent parental responsibility or a step parent parental responsibility order in place, or even if they are responsible for the care of the child without having parental responsibility and the child lives with them either full time or part time. A stepparent will therefore have the rights to collect a child from school unless there is a court order restricting their responsibilities.

Does a step parent have to pay child maintenance?

Child maintenance involves making regular financial contributions and providing financial support for the upbringing of children where the parents have separated. Parents are encouraged to reach an agreement amongst them for child maintenance and where this cannot be reached the Child Maintenance Service will step into consider the issues of child maintenance.

For child maintenance service and payments, a person is the parent of a child only if they are the mother or a father of a child. This could include adoptive parents, however, a stepparent, despite whether being married or not to a biological parent is not considered as a parent when the child maintenance service considers child maintenance payments. This means a stepparent with or without a stepparent parental responsibility or a stepparent parental responsibility order will not be considered as a parent and will not have to pay child maintenance payments unless they adopted the child and are a legal adoptive parent. The courts on the other hand can order a stepparent who was or remains married to a biological parent to make child maintenance payments if they consider that the child was treated as a child of the family.

How can a step parent be a co parent?

As with all relationships, a stepparent relationship can come to an end, if one of the biological parents ends their relationship with the stepparent.  A common question which our child law specialists face is how can a stepparent be a co parent?

Children will have often got used to living with their stepparent and may have formed a very strong emotional and physical bond with a stepparent however, once a stepparent has divorced the biological or natural parent, they will not acquire parental responsibility. This means they will need to consider alternative options for them to be a co parent.

Stepparents will often want to continue remaining in the life of their stepchildren following their separation with the natural parent and it may well be in the best interests of the child to continue this loving bond. In such circumstances our family lawyers would advise stepparents to try and amicably reach an agreement with the biological parent to continue co-parenting their stepchildren. At Kabir Family Law our child law specialists have experience in attempting to assist stepparents in communicating with the biological parent to try and reach an agreement amicably. Where this fails, we can assist stepparents in look to apply to the family court to obtain a child arrangements order which will allow them to spend time with their stepchildren.

A child arrangement order will determine where the child will live and whom the child will spend their time with. If a stepparent has been a consistent figure in their stepchild’s life and it is in the best interests and welfare of the stepchild for this bond and relationship to continue, the family courts will not be reluctant in ordering arrangements which factor in contact for stepparents with their stepchildren.

Do stepparents have rights if spouse dies?

A death of a spouse can often be very tragic for a partner and the family set up. Confusion could be caused surrounding the custody of a child following the death of a spouse where one parent is a stepparent and not a biological parent.

Where both the biological parents remain married and there is no stepparent the custody of a child will usually go to the surviving biological parent. Confusion and complications will often arise where the surviving parent is a stepparent, and the other biological parent is still around.

A stepparent can still have rights to custody of their stepchildren if the biological parent who is deceased made a provision of appointing the stepparent as a guardian in their will. A valid guardianship appointment can only be made where there is a valid order confirming the child is to live with the parent who has died.

The surviving biological parent can still challenge this provision which could result in the stepparent having to go to the family court to try and look to obtain their rights as a stepparent. However, it is possible for stepparents to acquire rights if a spouse dies. This is regardless of whether or not they held stepparent parental responsibility or there was a stepparent parental responsibility order in place.

There is no legal presumption which states that a child will only live with one biological parent after the other biological parent has deceased. The courts will assess the matter based on the welfare, best interests and wishes of a child where they can understand and making their own wishes. Providing it is in the best interests and welfare of a child, a stepparent can obtain rights following the death of their spouse.

A stepparent can also make an application for the child to live with them following the death of a spouse. The court’s permission will also not be needed where the child has lived with the stepparent for 3 years prior to making an application.

Where a stepparent has legally adopted their child, this may mean that the surviving biological parent has relinquished their rights including the right to obtain child custody following the death of a parent. Given that the stepparent is considered as an adoptive and legal parent they will be considered for custody of a child following the death of their spouse.

Contact Kabir Family Law today for a free initial consultation

If you are a stepparent and would like to obtain more information on your rights , or whether you are stepparent looking to acquire a stepparent parental responsibility, our family lawyers in Oxford can help. We can also assist you in securing a stepparent parental responsibility order where one biological parent is not agreeable to you obtaining your rights as a stepparent. We provide family law advice nationally as well as internationally through telephone, email, and Skype. We will also ensure you are kept up to date with you matter and assist you developing a strategy to help you succeed. Contact us today for a free initial consultation by calling on 01865 411200 to discuss your options or let us call you back.