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I have previously looked at the role of step-parents and, more importantly, their legal status in this earlier blog. To recap, a step-parent doesn’t typically have any ‘custody’ rights to stepchildren and therefore their powers are limited in respect of their step children. I gave the following example of where the legal status of a step parent could be an issue…
You have recently married your spouse who has two children, Lily and Harry. Your spouse is at brownie camp with Lily for a few days leaving you to care for Harry at home. Harry is out playing football with his mates at the park. You get a visit from a police officer who tells you that Harry has been in a fight and has harmed another boy. He is also injured and has been taken to hospital in an ambulance. He needs an operation on his broken jaw and the police also want to question him further about his behaviour. You cannot get hold of Harry’s mother or his biological father. What do you do and more importantly what are you allowed to do? The answer lies in whether you have ‘Parental Responsibility’ or not.
In short, you cannot give consent for any medical treatment to be carried out on Harry, nor can you accompany him whilst being questioned by the police. This can only come from someone who has parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their
The child’s birth mother will automatically have parental responsibility. The child’s father will automatically have parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother or if the child was born after 1 December 2003 and he is named on the child’s birth certificate. As a step-parent no matter how involved you are in the lives of your partner’s children, or how much you contribute to their upbringing – financially or otherwise – you will not automatically gain parental responsibility. Remember, an unmarried partner is not legally a step-parent.
A step-parent can only acquire parental responsibility for a child in very specific circumstances including:
I am always surprised at just how little Step-Parent Parental Responsibility Agreements are used and can only assume that step-parents are not aware of them and just how important they may be.
If you would like more information on this subject download our free factsheet on parental responsibility.