Posted by Paul Thomson on 10th October 2023
Can a step-parent obtain parental responsibility for a step-child?

Specialist Family lawyer Paul Thomson from our Children Law Team explains how a step-parent could obtain parental responsibility for their step-child.

In today’s society, families often reconfigure, leading to new relationships such as step-parents and step-children. While a step-parent may play a pivotal role in a child’s upbringing, they don’t automatically have legal authority in decisions concerning the child, such as approving a school trip.

Who holds parental responsibility?
The child’s biological mother automatically has parental responsibility. The biological father may also have it, depending on factors like if they were married to the mother or are named on the birth certificate (relevant for children born post-December 2003).

How can a step-parent achieve parental responsibility?
While marriage to the child’s biological parent doesn’t bestow parental responsibility, there are methods to acquire it:
Parental Responsibility Agreement: If you marry a child’s parent with existing parental responsibility, you can forge this agreement. However, every individual with parental responsibility must consent in writing. If not all consent, the court becomes the next recourse.
Court Application: A step-parent can apply to the court. This could be a sole application or a joint application with the biological parent. The existing holders of parental responsibility will need to be notified. While the other parent can contest the application, the court ultimately decides based on the child’s best interests.
Child Arrangements Order: If a step-parent secures this order, specifying they’re the child’s primary carer, they gain automatic parental responsibility for as long as the order stands. NB. Once the order expires so does the parental responsibility.
Legal Guardianship: Should a step-parent become the legal guardian, the court automatically grants them parental responsibility.
Special Guardian: If designated as the child’s special guardian, the court simultaneously bestows parental responsibility.

What does shared parental responsibility mean?
When a step-parent gains parental responsibility, it doesn’t negate the existing responsibility held by biological parents. It simply means that the responsibility is shared. Revoking this shared status is rare and typically only done by courts in exceptional circumstances.

Remember, family law can be intricate. If you’re considering seeking parental responsibility or have other family law queries, it’s always best to consult with specialists, like those at The Family Law Company, to guide you through the process. With over 30 years of experience, The Family Law Company offers outstanding expertise in family law, ensuring you navigate this journey with the best possible guidance. Our commitment is to prioritise children’s needs and to provide top-tier family law services. When you choose us, you’re choosing the best for your family.

Need some advice? Get in touch today

Paul Thomson is a Chartered Legal Executive at The Family Law Company. He specialises in Children Law working within our Private Children Law and Domestic Abuse teams.

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