Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What Rights Do Step-Parents Have After Divorce?

A friend of mine is in an unhealthy marriage that she admits she needs to leave. But there are step children involved that she loves, which makes divorce for her complicated. Of course there are sometimes cases where the parent needs to divorce because the step parent is unhealthy for the step child. Do step parents have any rights to their step children post divorce? It is complicated. Read more more below.

With around one third of marriages ending in divorce over the last 50 years, along with the steady rise of blended families, Step Parent Parental Responsibility and the rights of step-parents have understandably become areas of interest. We look at what those rights are and what you can expect as a divorcing step-parent.

What is considered a step-parent in the eyes of the law?

To be recognised as a step-parent in England, you will need to have been married to the biological parent of the child involved. If you have simply lived with the birth parent, this is not the same, even if you have fulfilled the usual roles and responsibilities of a married step-parent.

Parental responsibility

Having Parental Responsibility gives parents the legal right to make medical, welfare and education decisions for a child. Simply marrying a child’s biological parent does not provide automatic Parental Responsibility for a step-parent. However, there are a number of means to acquire it.

How to acquire parental responsibility

Historically, Parental Responsibility for a step-parent was only made possible by adopting the child or acquiring a Residence Order from the courts. However, in England, there are a number of additional ways you can do this.

Firstly, if you are a step-parent still married to the biological parent, you can sign a Parental Responsibility agreement between yourself and the child’s parents (both of whom have PR). Written consent is needed from all parties and this can often be a challenging situation with the other parent. When this is the case, you can make a court application that is considered by a judge. Although this can be opposed by the other parent, the Final Order is down to what the courts who consider what the best outcome for the child is.

Making a Child Arrangements Order

If you decide to make a Child Arrangements Order, which states you as the person a child will live with and spend time with, then Parental Responsibility will automatically be given while the order is in force. These instances are relatively uncommon. Once Parental Responsibility has been granted, a step-parent will then have the same responsibilities and rights as the biological parents do. When looking at Child Arrangement Orders, the courts will consider a step-parent’s previous engagement and level of contact with the child, as well as the attachment the child has to the step-parent. They will also examine the reasons behind the application from the step-parent.

It's important to know that if and when a step-parent successfully acquires Parental Responsibility, this is shared with the other parents. Although the biological parent may be absent, they still have Parental Responsibility.

Post-divorce financial responsibilities

Step-parents are not required by the government’s Child Maintenance Service to provide maintenance payments. An exception to this rule is if a step-child was brought up within a ‘new family’ circumstance where there was a step-parent, birth parent and other children involved. In these cases, the court can look at the requirements for step-parents to provide some kind of financial assistance towards the step-child.


If you are a step-parent considering a court order, then you are required to first of all try mediation with your ex-spouse. Mediation is considered to be less stressful than going through the courts and is designed to improve communication between all parties. A trained professional will help you look at various options available including temporary arrangements, finances and maintenance payments.

To conclude

Generally speaking, step-parents will not have the automatic legal right to see step-children following divorce. However, there are various options available that can help resolve disputes relating to contact and who a step-child should live with.

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