It is common these days for parents to marry or enter into long-term relationships with someone who is not their child’s biological parent. Step parents often develop strong bonds with children and play a significant role in their upbringing but legally the step parent has no legal standing when it comes to decisions about the child and its upbringing this can include signing consent forms for school.
Meena Kumari at Ridley & Hall explains that step parents often feel sidelined regardless of whether the non-resident parent plays an active role in the child’s life. The step parent and child relationship is often unacknowledged and can be as difficult for the child as it is for the step parent.”
Historically step parents could only acquire parental responsibility for a step child by legally adopting the child or by obtaining a residence order from the court. The legal provisions now have been made for step parents who are married to the child’s biological parent to obtain parental responsibility for the child by either:
- Entering in to a parental responsibility agreement with consent of any person who has parental responsibility;
- By a parental responsibility order made by the court.
This of course extends to civil partners and same sex marriages can also acquire parental responsibility by agreement or order of the court.
Unmarried parents are not legally classed as step parents which means that they would need to apply for a residence order or adopt the child to acquire parental responsibility.
The effect of providing parental responsibility to a step parent does not remove parental responsibility from the absent biological parent nor does it give a greater say than the absent parent.
For the step parent it does not create a liability to pay child maintenance nor does it give automatic permission for the step parent to see the child once they have separated from the child’s mother.