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This is a question we regularly get asked, particularly where a marriage has broken down and the children are not biological descendants of one of the parents. It can also be a worry if the biological parent has died and leaves the step parent in the child-caring role, as many can be concerned with legal stances surrounding the rights they have to that child.
Firstly, as a step parent, you can get parental responsibility through a number of ways. You can choose to adopt, or you can sign an agreement with the help of a court order. It will mean that in the eyes of the law, you will be dutifully and entirely responsible for the child’s wellbeing and you will have a right to fulfil those obligations that you would otherwise have as a biological parent. This may include decisions relating to schooling, medical care and residency such as applying for passports and so on.
It is worth noting that it is the mother that automatically has parental responsibility over a child. But, without an official, legally binding agreement or adoption, the step parent has no standing when it comes to the child’s upbringing and any decisions that are made on the child’s behalf. This doesn’t change simply by marrying a child’s biological parent either. However, it is possible for a step-parent to acquire a parental responsibility in specific circumstances – perhaps where the child lives with the step parent on his or her own.
In which case, the signing of a Parental Responsibility Agreement would need to take place and / or formal adoption. In doing so, a step-parent must meet two criteria:
If the biological parent disagrees to the arrangement, a step parent can apply to the court regardless if they feel it is in the child’s best interests. You cannot change your mind once you have signed the Agreement and it will be a life-long commitment until the child turns 18.
If you would like some further advice relating to your own situation, contact the family law team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.