As I sat at home watching the BBC documentary, Danielle Lineker: My New Stepfamily, I was reminded about the changing dynamics of the ‘traditional’ family. As the rate of divorce continues to increase, more and more children find that they are part of a step family. This is often highlighted in the world of the celebrity when the step parent triangles of Katie/Peter and Alex or Tom/Nicole and Katie struggle to adjust to their new situation.
This leads to the question of whether the step parent should share Parental Responsibility for their partner’s child.
The definition of Parental Responsibility is “all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to a child.”
A mum automatically has Parental Responsibility for her child irrespective of marital status. Dad also shares Parental Responsibility if he is married to mum or if he is named on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born after 1 December 2003.
But what happens if mum and dad divorce and mum or dad re-marry? What rights, duties, powers and responsibilities does the step parent have in respect of the child?
This question becomes particularly important if mum or dad become absent in the child’s life and the role of parent falls heavily on the step parent. For example, an increasing number of children find themselves living with mum and mum’s new husband. The child may only see dad once in a blue moon and mum’s new husband is heavily involved in the day to day upbringing of the child. The step dad may take the child to school whilst mum is at work, they may take them to the doctors when they are poorly or be the person the child turns to when they need some advice.
No matter how involved the step parent is in the child’s life however, they do not share any legal rights in respect of the child. There are steps that can be taken to change this though, if this is what the families wish.
Under Section 4 (A)(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989, the parties may choose to enter into a Step Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement. Mum and dad (should he share Parental Responsibility) together with the step parent need to sign the necessary agreement which must be witnessed before a Court Official. This can be done at your local County Court or Family Proceedings Court. Once the Agreement is signed, it should be sent to the Principal Registry in London where it will be recorded.
Alternatively, an application can be made to Court whereby the Court will decide whether the step parent should share Parental Responsibility for the child.
This decision should not however be rushed into as the Agreement will only end once the child reaches the age of 18 or by an Order of the Court.
If these circumstances affect you, you should seek specialist legal advice from a family solicitor. Stephensons Solicitors LLP are experienced in advising step parents and their partners about these issues.
If you are currently experiencing family difficulties, then why not contact our family line for free initial advice on 0800 073 1324.
By family solicitor, Hanna Fayle