Step-parents who have divorced the biological parent of their step-child may legitimately wonder what their ongoing rights and responsibilities are towards their step-children.
The legal definition of step-parent
The legal definition of ‘step-parent’ in the UK encompasses individuals who have married one of the biological parents of a child. Individuals who have lived with a biological parent for a significant amount of time is not sufficient in itself, although they may have assumed a traditional parental role for a child that is not biologically theirs. Marriage is therefore a legal prerequisite to acquire step-parent status.
Step-parent rights after the relationship ends
What happens after a divorce can depend on whether the step-parent acquired parental responsibility for the child during the relationship. Parental responsibility is granted in one of three ways:
- By agreement with all other individuals who already have parental responsibility
- By adopting the child
- By going through the courts and obtaining a court order.
Parental responsibility gives individuals the legal right to make decisions regarding a child’s welfare, including decisions relating to medical, accommodation, and educational factors.
If a step-parent divorces the child’s biological parent, they have no automatic legal right to see the child. The only exception to this rule is if they have officially adopted the child. Though having acquired parental responsibility while in a relationship with the biological parent won’t change this, it may have a positive impact on proceedings if you decide to seek a court order that allows you to see the child.
What changes for step-parents after divorce?
There is no presumption of continued parental involvement when it comes to step-parents. When a step-parent divorces the child’s biological parent, they do not have an automatic legal right to see the child. The exception to this rule is if they have officially adopted the child. Though having acquired parental responsibility while in a relationship with a biological parent will not change this, it may have a positive impact on proceedings if they decide to seek a Court Order that allows them to see the child.
What financial responsibilities does a step-parent have after divorce?
The Child Maintenance Service cannot require a step-parent to pay maintenance for a step-child. However, if the step-child was raised as if they were part of a new family consisting of the step-parent, the biological parent and any children, the Courts could determine that the step-parent needs to contribute financially. If this is found to be the case, the step-parent may be asked to make monthly maintenance payments, provide the step-child and biological parent with a place to live and/or cover certain living costs.
What options does a step-parent have for retaining contact with a child after divorce?
Mediation – the step-parent and biological parent are required to attend mediation before initiating the Court process. The aim of mediation is to attempt to resolve the issue/s through constructive discourse with the help of an independent third party. If mediation is unsuccessful and an agreement is not reached, the step-parent can resort to Court intervention.
Court Proceedings – the most useful legal tool is a Child Arrangements Order which determines where the child is to live and with whom they spend their time. A number of factors come into play when a step-parent applies for a Child Arrangements Order and those involved in the proceedings will take into account all the relevant circumstances before making a decision.
Find out more
For any help or support with separation, child arrangement orders, or supporting your children, then please contact our dedicated Family Law team.
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