Step-Parents and Parental Responsibility

Carolyn RichardsAuthor: Carolyn Richards. Associate Solicitor, LLB (Hons).

Carolyn is a specialist family law Solicitor and offers a free initial interview to give general advice and guidance and to discuss the options available to you.

Adoption of a child is often something considered by step parents. A common scenario is where a couple get married and one party has a child from another relationship. The other may want to share the same rights and responsibilities as the natural parent.

Whilst stepchild adoption is possible, there are other options to consider. The rights and responsibilities referred to relate to Parental Responsibility:

Parental Responsibility

A person with parental responsibility is entitled to have a say in major decisions about the child. For example, where the child should live or go to school, the giving or withholding of medical treatment and what religion they should practice.

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child.  A father will have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. Or, if not married to the child’s mother, his name appears on the child’s birth certificate. Or he subsequently acquires parental responsibility by entering into an agreement with the mother or obtains a Court Order.  A step parent does not acquire parental responsibility for a child just because they are married to a child’s natural parent who does have parental responsibility.

Adoption Orders

Adoption is a way for a step parent to obtain parental responsibility.  An Adoption Order would change the child’s legal status and would undo all the legal ties with their natural parents.  If the other parent is alive and taking an active role in the child’s welfare, an Adoption Order is unlikely to be an option.  However, if the other parent is no longer living, or has no desire to remain in contact with the child, this would be a possibility. Any application would need to be a joint application with the parent.

If it is the case that the absent parent does not wish to be involved in the child’s life, a step parent can apply for an Adoption Order. They must be over 21 and have lived in the UK, or been habitually resident here for at least a year.  They must also have been living in the same household as the child for 6 months prior to the application being made. Again, any application should be a joint application with the parent.

At least 3 months written notice of the intention to make the application must be given to the Local Authority.  The natural parents would need to be involved in the proceedings. The absent parent would have to give consent to the Adoption or their consent dispensed with.

A Court will only make an Adoption Order once it has made extensive enquiries. Also if it is considered to be in the child’s best interests.

Alternative Options

There are alternatives to Adoption.  It is possible for a step parent and both natural parents to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement.  This would enable the step parent to exercise Parental Responsibility. To be involved in decision making in relation to the child’s welfare.  This responsibility is then shared with the natural parents. The natural parents’ rights and responsibilities will not come to an end, as with Adoption.

Another alternative is for the step parent to apply for a Child Arrangements Order stating that the child should live with them. Such an Order would permit the step parent to exercise parental responsibility for the child whilst the Order remained in force.  As with any application to the Court, both natural parents would need to be notified of the proceedings and would be entitled to oppose the Application.

Get in touch

Hart Reade are here to help you in Eastbourne, Meads, Hailsham and Polegate.  All departments are fully operational and ready to progress matters quickly.

If you would like to get in touch with Carolyn or one of our other Family Law Solicitors about Step-Parents and Parental Responsibility or any other family matter, then please call 01323 841481. Or alternatively, please fill in the form below and someone will be in touch. Carolyn is a specialist family law Solicitor and offers a free initial interview to give general advice and guidance and to discuss the options available to you.

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Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. You should always speak to a legal professional to discuss your circumstances and consider your options.