With a third of marriages ending in divorce and remarriage being a very common reality of modern family life, the extent to which step-parents have parental responsibility is a very relevant issue to consider. If you are a step-parent or biological parent wanting legal advice with regards to parental responsibility, you are in the right place.

The general position of step-parents
As a general starting point, step-parents do not automatically have the same rights and responsibilities that biological parents have. Irrespective of the closeness of the bond between the step-parents and children and the role they play in the step-children’s lives, parental responsibility can only be gained by making a formal agreement between step-parents and biological parents or through a court order.

What does a lack of parental responsibility mean in practice?
If a step-parent does not have parental responsibility, in practice it will mean that they will not be able to make decisions that fundamentally affect the welfare of children in the same way that biological parents can. The Children Act 1989 (s3) defines parental responsibility as, “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. “ To illustrate what this could mean in practice, should a child require emergency medical treatment, for example, a step-parent will not normally be able to provide legal consent for that treatment.

Getting parental responsibility
So what can a step-parent do to ultimately acquire parental responsibility? If there is little dispute, you could make a formal agreement with the biological parents, so long as they are the ones you have parental responsibility for the child/children concerned.
If there is a dispute, you may have to get a court order. In deciding whether to grant a step-parent parental responsibility or not, the court will assess whether granting responsibility is in the best interests of the children and the extent to which the step-parent has already, on the face of it, taken on that responsibility. If you have largely taken on the role of a biological parent and take care of the children almost all of the time, it is likely that the court will see granting parental responsibility as in the best interests of the children.

Evidence, evidence, evidence
If it looks like a dispute will go to court, you need evidence. You need to show the central role you play in the child/children’s lives. Do you, for example, take them to school everyday? Do you play an important role in their extracurricular activities? Do you take care of them by making sure they are washed, clothed and fed? The more solid evidence you have, the better. If you haven’t already done so, keep a record of the time you spend with the children, what you do together, the money you spend etc.

Quality advice for step-parents and biological parents alike
Our child custody solicitors do their very best to provide you a value for money service through professionalism, years of experience in child custody cases and a results based approach. Knowing child custody issues can be stressful, we strive to adopt a sensitive approach, yet balance this against our commitment to deliver what the customer wants and by representing your interests in the best possible manner.

If you are a step-parent wanting parental responsibility or a biological parent wanting to oppose an application for parental responsibility, get in touch with our child custody solicitors to find out what we can do to help.