You can get Parental Responsibility as a step-parent in a number of ways including legal adoption, a Parental Responsibility Agreement and a Court Order. This information applies in England & Wales.
What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility is all the duties and obligations you have towards a child as a parent.
For example you have a duty to provide food, shelter, and safety and to maintain the child financially. But it also includes education, religion, discipline, medical treatment, the name by which a child is known and even where a child should live.
The Children Act 1989 sets out a legal definition of Parental Responsibility.
Who Has Parental Responsibility?
A mother automatically has Parental Responsibility. A biological father will have Parental Responsibility if:
- He was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth or married her subsequently, or
- He is named on the child’s birth certificate (when registered after 1/12/2003), or
- He has the benefit of a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Court Order granting him Parental Responsibility
Same-sex partners who were civil partners at the time of the birth will both have Parental Responsibility.
A child’s Legal Guardian will have Parental Responsibility if he/she was appointed in the Will of a parent with Parental Responsibility, and that parent is deceased.
In certain circumstances, Parental Responsibility may be shared with a Local Authority (usually when the child has been the subject of Care Proceedings).
Parental Responsibility for Step-parents
It’s common these days for parents to marry or to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who is not their child’s biological parent.
The step-parent often develops a bond with the child and plays a significant role in their upbringing, but legally the step-parent has no standing when it comes to decisions about the child and its upbringing, even signing consent forms for school.
Whether the other (non-resident) biological parent plays an ongoing active role in the child’s life or not, step-parents can feel side-lined, compromised or that their relationship with the child is unacknowledged. It can also be an issue for the child if the step-parent is viewed as a significant figure in their life.
Step-parents cannot acquire Parental Responsibility for a child simply by marrying the child’s biological parent. Previously, 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.
Currently a step-parent can acquire Parental Responsibility for a child in very specific circumstances, including:
- When the Court makes a Child Arrangements Order that the child lives with the step-parent either on their own or with another person. However these types of ‘step-parent’ Orders are uncommon
- When the step-parent adopts a child which puts him/her in the same position as a birth parent
- Through the signing of a Parental Responsibility Agreement to which all the other people with Parental Responsibility consent (see below for more information)
- When the Court has made a Parental Responsibility Order following an application by the step-parent. On acquiring Parental Responsibility, a step-parent has the same duties and responsibilities as a biological parent
Same sex partners in a registered civil partnership or marriage can also acquire Parental Responsibility by agreement or a Court Order.
How to Get Responsibility Agreement as a Step-Parent
There are two criteria to obtaining Parental Responsibility by agreement:
Firstly you must be married to the biological parent with whom the child lives.
Secondly you must have the signed consent of every person with Parental Responsibility for the child. This means that if the other parent of the child is living and has Parental Responsibility, he/she must agree to you acquiring Parental Responsibility and must co-operate in the agreement being approved by the Court.
You must also be able to provide your marriage certificate showing you are married to the child’s parent. The child’s parent must provide the child’s full birth certificate, and where there is another parent with Parental Responsibility, proof that they have Parental Responsibility must be provided. All parties to the agreement must provide photographic evidence of identity, for example a passport or driving licence.
What if the Other Parent Won’t Agree?
It can be a contentious issue when other people are involved in the upbringing of your children. The idea of sharing Parental Responsibility with your former spouse or partner’s new spouse may not sit comfortably and may be viewed as an attempt to marginalise a parent in their own child’s life.
If that parent’s agreement is not forthcoming but you and your spouse remain of the view that you having Parental Responsibility is in the child’s best interests, then you can apply to the Court to make an Order giving you Parental Responsibility.
What are the Effects of a Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement?
Here’s what a step-parent Parental Responsibility Agreement doesn’t do:
- It doesn’t remove Parental Responsibility from the absent biological parent
- It doesn’t give you a greater say than the absent parent in the child’s upbringing (but it does give you an equal say)
- It doesn’t make you liable to pay maintenance for the child
- If you separate from the child’s parent or move out, it doesn’t give you an automatic right to see the child
What a step-parent Parental Responsibility Agreement does do is give you the same legal rights and obligations in relation to raising the child as the biological parent or parents.
What if I Change my Mind?
Once you have Parental Responsibility, whether by agreement or Court Order, it can only end in the following ways:
- if you or any other person with Parental Responsibility obtains a Court Order
- if the child (with the permission of the Court) applies for an Order
- when the child reaches 18