Posted by familylaw on 7th August 2019
Last updated 30th December 2023
Can I get parental responsibility for a step-child?

With the ever changing dynamics of society it is very common now for parents with children who have parted ways to remarry or enter into new relationships. This can lead to new relationships, and the introduction of new roles; ‘step-parent’ and ‘step-children’.

Why does parental responsibility mean for a step-parent?

The step-parent often becomes a significant figure in a child’s life, carrying out day-to-day tasks and being heavily involved in their upbringing. However, a step-parent does not have any legal standing when making decisions regarding the child – even something as simple as signing a consent form for a school trip.

Who has parental responsibility?

A child’s biological mother automatically has parental responsibility. The biological father of the child may or may not have parental responsibility. This will depend on whether they married the biological mother and, if not, whether they are named on the child’s birth certificate (if the child was born after December 2003).

How can a step-parent obtain parental responsibility?

Unlike biological parents, a step-parent cannot obtain parental responsibility simply by marrying the child’s biological parent. There are however various ways in which a step-parent can obtain parental responsibility for their stepchild.

  1. If you marry the child’s parent (who already has parental responsibility) then you can enter into a parental responsibility agreement. The agreement is between the step-parent and the child’s parents who already have parental responsibility. To enter into a parental responsibility agreement, you must have the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be very difficult getting the agreement of the other parent. If this is the case, then a parental responsibility agreement will be impossible, and the next step must be an application to the court.
  2. A step-parent can make an application to the court for the Judge to make an order that they have parental responsibility for the step-child. If this happens, those that already have parental responsibility of the child will be provided with notice of the application to the court. The other parent can oppose such an application, but ultimately it will be the court that decides whether it is in the child’s best interests for parental responsibility to be granted to the step-parent.
  3. If a step-parent obtains a Child Arrangements Order in which they are specifically named as the person with whom the child lives, parental responsibility will automatically be granted to that person as long as the order remains in force.
  4. If the step-parent becomes the child’s legal guardian then parental responsibility is automatically granted by the court.
  5. If the step-parent is appointed as the child’s ‘special guardian’, parental responsibility is automatically granted by the court at the same time.

What is shared parental responsibility?

If the step-parent is granted parental responsibility through any of these routes, it means that parental responsibility is shared between the parents. The absent biological parent still retains their parental responsibility. Parental responsibility can only be revoked by the court in very rare and extreme cases.

If you would like to talk to us about this, or any other family law issue, please contact us. Your first appointment is always free.

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