During a divorce, or a separation, as a step-parent you may have many questions regarding their rights to see the child. Potentially, you might have lived as a family unit for years, building a close and personal relationship and forging a close bond. Now they face concerns about how their ex-partner will allow the relationship to proceed.

What is the legal definition of a step-parent?

In the UK step-parents are defined as – a person who marries one of the biological parents of a child. Regardless of the time living with the biological parent of the child(ren), a person will only qualify in legal terms as a step–parent if the person marries the biological parent of the child(ren). If they were not married to the biological parent, but lived together with them, then their rights will be slightly different. A lot will depend on whether or not you have parental responsibility for the child.

Is it possible to obtain Parental Responsibility as a step-parent?

As a step-parent, you can obtain parental responsibility. If you marry or enter into a civil partnership with the child’s parent, you are not automatically obtaining parental responsibility by living with them. You may obtain parental responsibility by signing a Parental Responsibility Agreement, adopting the child, or obtaining a court order. Without this agreement, you cannot make any decisions for the child – such as signing permission slips for school, or giving consent to medical treatment.

How do you obtain a parental responsibility agreement?

The step-parent must consent to the Parental Responsibility Agreement as well as the child’s other parent (if they have parental responsibility) plus anyone else with parental responsibility. You need to apply for a  Parental Responsibility Agreement form from your local court, which must be signed by all at a court in the presence of a court officer. 

The form must be completed separately for each child and, if you are married to the child’s biological parent, your marriage certificate will be required. Parental responsibility can be extremely emotional and unsettling if the child’s other parent does not agree that you should also have it. If the other parent doesn’t agree to sign the agreement you will need to get a court order granting you parental responsibility presuming that you both feel that it is in the child’s best interest for you to have it. 

What the Step-parent parental responsibility means

It will grant you the same rights and responsibilities as the birth parents in regards to raising the child. It gives you an equal right in matters relating to the child. You do not automatically have a right to see, or spend time with, a child after you separate from the biological parent. Adoption is the only legal exception to this rule. You are also not required to pay child maintenance after separation.

In the complex area of family law, our solicitors aim for achieving outstanding results for our clients. For more information contact us on 01983 632006 or email info@michaelspoors.co.uk.