Monday, 14 April 2008

Step-parents & parental responsibility in UK family law

I am a stepfather. I have been living with a woman who has 3 children for about 4 years. I have 2 children of my own who also live with us. We are about to get married. Will this give me parental responsibility for my partner’s children? Do I need parental responsibility?

Getting married to your partner will not give you parental responsibility for your step-children (although you will have responsibilities for the welfare of any child in your care and for maintaining any child of the family).

Since 5th December 2005 step-parents and same sex partners in a registered civil partnership can acquire parental responsibility through a formal agreement or court order. However, anyone else who has parental responsibility has to sign the agreement – this will usually mean that the child’s biological father must agree.

You can also acquire it by applying to the court for a residence order or by adopting the children. As a married step parent with whom a child has been living for 3 years you have a right to apply for a residence order. You also have the right to apply if the child has lived with you for at least 3 years during the last 5 years, and within the last 3 months or you are a civl partner and have treated the child as your own. Much will depend on the attitude of the children’s father. If he is not involved with the children, asking for a residence order may be reasonably straightforward (although the father will have to have notice of your application). If he is involved and especially if he has parental responsibility, you would be well advised to try to get him to agree that you should have a residence order. It may help if you explain to him clearly why you want it (for example, to enable you to be fully involved in the children’s schooling or medical treatment) and to offer any appropriate reassurance about his continuing role in the children’s lives. If he has parental responsibility, you would share it with him as well as the children’s mother. In other words it does not take it away from him.

You should take legal advice about the best way forward.