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Summer holidays can be a minefield for step-parents

Estranged parents are being urged to discuss their children's welfare ahead of the school holidays to make sure they are prepared for every eventuality.

Despite an increasing number of children being looked after by step-parents for large amounts of the time, in the event of an emergency, such as an accident, they might not have the legal right to approve things like medical procedures.

So they are being urged to clarify the situation at the start of the summer holidays and look into getting simple legal documents drawn up to ensure that they are covered for every eventuality.

Karen Agnew-Griffith, a family law expert with Woolley & Co solicitors, said the legal position of step-parents was not always clear.

"There are certain things step-parents cannot authorise for their children, like for instance if they had an accident and needed serious treatment," said Karen.

"Imagine you have recently married and your spouse has three children. They are away with one child, leaving you with the other two. You agree they can go out cycling. 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 are you allowed to do? It will depend if you have parental responsibility."

A step-parent does not automatically acquire parental responsibility.

They can acquire parental responsibility through a formal agreement or court order, signed by each natural parent or other individual who has parental responsibility.

"Our advice to estranged couples is to talk about this at the start of the holidays so any issues like this can be sorted out," said Karen, herself a step-parent.

"We are happy to help to advise people on their rights and how to go about acquiring parental responsibility and I would urge anyone affected by this to get in contact as soon as possible."

Woolley & Co was founded in Stratford-upon-Avon 11 years ago and now has family law experts in Coventry, Derby, Burton on Trent, Cirencester, Chippenham, Gloucester, Worcester, Northampton, Nuneaton and Norfolk.

For more information, visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk

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