Do you have parental responsibility as a step parent?

by Nanette Kendrick on April 1, 2023

Do you have parental responsibility as a stepparent?

The rise in divorce has been accompanied by a rise in remarriages. This has led to a rise in stepparents. Despite the name, stepparents do not automatically have parental responsibility for their step-children. In some cases, however, they may be able to acquire it. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know. 

And for Family Lawyers in England click here; and for Family law firms in Scotland click here; and for Northern Ireland family lawyers click here.

What parental responsibility means in law 

Legally, the term “parental responsibility” refers to the rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities that parents have in relation to their children. It encompasses the ability to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, including decisions about their education, healthcare, religion, and general welfare. 

This is separate from everyday parental responsibilities such as taking children from A to B. With that said, there tends to be a certain level of overlap. For example, the decision on where a child goes to school is likely to influence whether or not they can go to school by themselves. 

By default, only parents have parental responsibility 

In the UK, under normal circumstances, a child’s biological mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child. 

A child’s biological father is automatically granted parental responsibility for the child provided that they meet at least one of two criteria. These are to be named on the child’s birth certificate or to be married to the child’s mother. 

If a man marries the mother of his child after the child’s birth, they are automatically assigned parental responsibility even if they are not named on the child’s birth certificate. If a man marries the mother of somebody else’s child, they may or may not acquire parental responsibility for that child. This depends on the individual circumstances. 

How you acquire parental responsibility 

The short answer to that question is that a court assigns it to you. It may do so with or without the agreement of any of the parties concerned. This, potentially, includes the stepparent.  

When making its decision, the court will assess the welfare of the child. In particular, it will look at the child’s relationship with the key people in their life. It will then assess who is in the best position to give the child the care and support they need. 

How a stepparent can request to be granted parental responsibility 

In principle, the best way for a stepparent to be granted parental responsibility is through agreement with the key people in the child’s life. This agreement in principle can then be converted into a legally-binding agreement. 

It is, however, important to note that Family Courts do not just rubber-stamp agreements. They need to be satisfied that any agreement really is in the child’s best interest. This means it’s highly advisable to get expert legal advice. 

If a stepparent wants to be granted parental responsibility against the wishes of one (or both) of the parents, then it’s even more important to get legal advice. You will need to give the Court a very compelling argument as to why they should overrule the wishes of any member of the child’s birth family. 

How stepparents can be forced to accept parental responsibility 

Technically, nobody can be forced to accept full parental responsibility for a child. Even birth parents can give a child up for adoption. They can, however, be forced to accept financial responsibility for a child. 

In the case of a stepparent/step-child relationship, this could come about if the stepparent accepts financial responsibility for the child during their relationship with the child’s birth-parent. If this support became integral to a child’s life (e.g., school fees), the parent(s) and/or child might make a claim for continued support even if the relationship ended. 

This is another reason why it can be useful for couples to take legal advice about their financial situation before they marry. It may not seem romantic, but it can save a lot of heartbreak (and expense) later.

Nanette Kendrick

Nanette Kendrick

Nannette Kendrick is the Head of New Business and Marketing at Lovedays Solicitors who specialise in Family Law, stepparents’ rights, divorce, and property services such as conveyancing.
Nanette Kendrick
Nanette Kendrick

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