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What are my rights as a step-parent following divorce?

Jun 25, 2018

Following a divorce, it can be difficult to make arrangements for your children, but what do you do if you are a step-parent?  We understand that even though you are not a biological parent of the child or children, you will no doubt have built a bond and a relationship with them during your time married to their parent.  Therefore, following a divorce, you are likely to wish to continue that relationship with them, and so you may be wondering what rights you have in regard to seeing your step-children now that your marriage with their parent has ended.  There are certain factors you will need to consider and here Sam Miles, Family Partner, explains those considerations and the steps you will need to take.  

Am I legally a step-parent?

In order to clarify your legal rights and responsibilities as a step-parent after a divorce, you must first meet the definition of a step-parent as recognised by law and subsequently, the Courts. 

In the UK, step-parents are individuals who have married one of the biological parents of a child.  Marriage is a legal prerequisite for step-parent status; simply having lived with a biological parent for a substantial amount of time is not sufficient in itself.  Though you may have assumed a traditional parental role for a child that’s not biologically theirs, it’s not until you marry that you become a step-parent.

Step-parent rights and parental responsibility

Your rights as a step-parent following a divorce will be determined by whether you acquired parental responsibility during the marriage.   Parental responsibility is granted in one of three ways:

  • By agreement with all other individuals who already have parental responsibility
  • By adopting the child
  • By going to Court and obtaining a court order.

Parental responsibility gives you the legal right to make decisions regarding a child’s welfare, including decisions relating to medical, accommodation, and educational factors.

If you divorce the child’s biological parent, you have no automatic legal right to see the child unless you have adopted the child. 

Family Mediation

If you are disagreeing with your former spouse about having contact with your step-children, before proceeding to Court you are required to attempt Family Mediation.  You will need to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with the biological parent to assess whether mediation would be suitable.  Depending on your individual circumstances, Family Mediation can be a highly effective method to reach an agreement, avoiding the costly and timely process of going through the Courts.  However, if an agreement cannot be reached then you will need to apply to Court for a Child Arrangements Order. 

These orders determine where the child lives and with whom they spend their time.  A variety of factors are considered by the Courts when step-parents apply for a Child Arrangements Order, and the official in charge will take all relevant circumstances into account before making a decision.

Financial responsibilities as a step-parent

When it comes to a step-parent’s financial obligation to their step-child after a divorce, there are a few things to bear in mind.  Firstly, the Child Maintenance Service can’t require you as a step-parent to pay maintenance for a step-child.  If the step-child was raised as if it were part of a new family, i.e. the family with you as step-parent, biological parent, and any children, the Courts could determine that you do need to cover some costs.  In such a case, they may ask you to make monthly maintenance payments, provide them with a place to live, or cover certain living costs.

Sam concludes, “Going through a divorce is never an easy one, and being allowed to stay in contact with your step-children can be a difficult process if you have no legal right to do so.  By coming to us, we can help explain to you the various methods that may be the most successful for you and your situation, bearing in mind your past relationship with you former spouse and keeping the children’s best interests at the heart of any decisions.”

To discuss with Sam your options as a step-parent, you can contact her or the team by calling 023 8071 7431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.