Legal Rights for Step-Parents
Two people meet and fall in love - the next exciting step can often involve moving in together. So far, so good but what if that also means the coming together of two separate families with children involved?
These days it’s not unusual for families to be more diverse with a mix of birth siblings, step siblings or half siblings all living under one roof. Merging two families in this way can often involve a great deal of adjustment for all, adults and children alike.
To complicate matters since 1st December 2003 any unmarried father named on the birth certificate has a right to shared parental responsibility.
While you, your new partner and your respective children may have great relationships, quite naturally different kinds of tensions and issues can arise – including some not previously anticipated.
Dilemmas include: ‘What if I want my new husband/wife to also share parental responsibility for my child?’
‘What if I were to die, what legal protection/arrangements can I put in place to provide for my children and them being cared for by my partner?’
‘How can I deal with my previous partner’s rights and his or her reaction to this new move?’
Parents would be sensible to take stock of their position as these types of issues can be dealt with by means of a number of legal solutions.
- A Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement enabling a step-parent to acquire parental responsibility for their step-child. This allows the step-parent to share in making the big decisions which may affect a child’s upbringing, such as where the child lives and which school he or she attends.
- A Guardianship Will: although not legally binding, this document can set out a parent’s wishes regarding care of children in the event of his or her death.
- Child Arrangements Order: this can be obtained through the court. It can define precisely where a child is to live and the level of contact that the child is to have with the non-resident parent. It can also confer parental responsibility to a step-parent.
- Injunctions: Changes in living arrangements can often spark unexpected reactions from previous partners. Injunctive relief can be obtained for those subjected to harassment, threats, verbal abuse or physical abuse by a former partner. Legal Aid is available for such work. The police also have powers to issue Police Information Notices in harassment cases.
- Mediation: This is the preferred route assuming it is appropriate in the particular circumstances, to work through issues with former partners and to consider the legal options available to resolve them. Legal Aid is available for mediation.
Knowing your own legal rights and your previous partner’s legal rights can help considerably to calm or address potentially volatile situations, not least for the benefit of the children involved.
It can be unpleasant but being prepared to recognise and tackle these issues enables both you, your new partner and your previous partner to deal with the practical problems, before they arise.
After all a new chapter should be a positive one, so long as you know where you stand! As always, the best advice is to speak to an expert to discuss the most effective way for planning and securing your future.