Step Parents' Rights

Step Parents’ Rights

The makeup of the modern family is very different from that of previous generations; McAlister Family and Child Law team are experts in helping modern families, and that includes the rights of step parents.

When relationships come to an end and new ones start, there are many different elements to take into consideration.  A new partner has children of their own for example, or you need to introduce your own children to your new partner – some can find it daunting. We understand the challenges you can face and what is required to give your new life the best chance to move on successfully.

Any rights that do exist vary, depending on whether you are a step-parent by marriage of Civil Partnership, or simply co-habiting as an unmarried couple.

Step-parents are in the unique but difficult position of regularly having contact with a child, if not day-to-day care, without necessarily having the legal responsibility or decision-making powers of a birth parent. We can assist in advising on and regulating such arrangements if necessary.

What are
Step Parent’s

Being a step-parent does not automatically impose any rights or obligations in respect of the child of the other partner in the relationship. The birth parents of any children of the family are the ones that retain “Parental Responsibility” and therefore have the right to say in the upbringing of the children of the family, in the same way as you retain “Parental Responsibility” of your own children with your former partner, being the other parent.

What are my legal duties and responsibilities for my partner’s children?

As a step-parent, you do not have Parental Responsibility for a child of your partner, regardless of how much involvement you have in the day-to-day care of the child you have, or whether you make a financial contribution to a child’s upbringing.

Obtaining Parental Responsibility may be important if you have day-to-day care of your partner’s children, especially if your partner might not be around for periods of time and another person needs to be available to make important decisions.  For example, in an emergency, consent may be required to give medical treatment to a child.  In practice, most step-parents wouldn’t need to share Parental Responsibility as they act under that delegated by their partner, the parent of the child.

Can a Step Parent obtain Parental Responsibility if required?

Yes, they can, as since 2005, a married step-parent, with the agreement of all the people with existing Parental Responsibility of a children, usually the birth parents, have been able to acquire parental responsibility similar to how an unmarried father might acquire Parental Responsibility.  Our specialist children team can prepare the step-parent agreement on a fixed fee basis.

An unmarried, or married step-parent may also acquire Parental Responsibility by way of a court order, whether that is a Child Arrangement Order, or by adopting their partner’s child.

A step-parent with Parental Responsibility has the same legal rights, duties and responsibilities as a natural parent or other person with Parental responsibility would have. Parental Responsibility is the same for each person that shares it in respect of a child. It does not matter if you are the mother, father, other carer or step-parent. Parental Responsibility is the same.

And what if I need to apply to court for an order as a Step Parent?

First thing is to get advice early on. Leaving a situation too long may mean opportunities are lost to resolve matters without going to court, whether by negotiation with the other parent or by mediation.

As with any application for a Child Arrangements Order, if the child concerned has lived with you for a period of more than three years then you do not need to seek permission from the court to make an application. If not, a step-parent needs to seek “leave”. This is an additional hurdle where the court will consider whether to grant permission for the application to move to the next stage having regard to the nature of the proposed application, the step-parent’s connection with the child, any risk of disruption to the child’s life to the extent the child would be harmed by it.

If permission is granted, then any case would proceed in much the same way as an application submitted by a parent. The procedure is the same.


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