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Divorce and family law explained 

Step-parents rights and responsibilities

There are, in this complicated world, a great many step-parents.  If you are one do you know your legal position in terms of what you can and cannot authorise when it comes to your step children?
 
Imagine you have recently married and your spouse has three children.  Your spouse is off on camp with the youngest child leaving you to run around with the elder two.  You agree they can go out cycling for half an hour.  Then the police knock on the door.  One of the children has been in an accident and is currently being treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital.  The other child is being accused of causing the accident and the police want to talk to her.
 
Neither of the children’s natural parents can be contacted by mobile phone.  What can you do or more importantly what are you allowed to do?  The answer to this question will depend on if you have Parental Responsibility.
 
Who really has parental responsibility?
A step-parent even if married to a parent of children does not acquire Parental Responsibility for a child automatically.  Parental Responsibility is the bundle of rights and duties relating to a child.  Duties include providing clothing, a home, an education and making sure no harm comes to the child.  An individual with Parental Responsibility can authorise a change of name for a child in certain circumstances and can give consent to marry if the child is under the age of 18.
 
The mother of a child always has Parental Responsibility.  An unmarried father of a child whose birth was registered before 30th November 2003 does not automatically have Parental Responsibility even if he is registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate.  Since 1st December 2003 however an unmarried father who is present when the birth is registered i.e. is on the birth certificate, does acquire Parental Responsibility.  Father’s without Parental Responsibility are able to acquire it through a formal agreement registered with the authorities or through a Court Order.
 
Rights and responsibilities of step-parents
Step-parents since 5th December 2005 can also acquire Parental Responsibility through a formal agreement or Court Order.  Other Orders which result in Parental Responsibility to a step-parent or other individual (e.g. grand-parent) are a Residence Order which regulates where a child will live and gives the individual with the Residence Order Parental Responsibility until the child is 16.  A Parental Responsibility Order however endures until the child’s 18th birthday.  Following the Civil Partnership Act 2004 coming into force on the 5th December 2005 same sex partners in a registered Civil Partnership are also able to acquire Parental Responsibility by formal agreement or Court Order.
 
Step-parents however still will not and do not acquire Parental Responsibility automatically.  For a formal agreement each person with Parental Responsibility has to sign the Agreement.  This is often the natural parents and any other individuals who have acquired Parental Responsibility since the birth of the child. 
 
A step-parent on acquiring Parental Responsibility has the same duties and responsibilities as any other individual including a natural parent with Parental Responsibility.
 
Need further advice?
Call Woolley & Co on 0800 3213832 or book a free initial telephone appointment with one of our lawyers.

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