Legal Advice for Stepparents

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Legal Advice for Stepfamilies


Step-parents may need to seek legal advice when faced with the prospect of obtaining parental rights for a step-child.

Families come in all shapes and sizes and stepfamilies have become more common in modern life. When two families come together to form a blended family the parents will want to do everything they can to look after their family unit.

A step-parent can play an important role in a child’s life but Step-parents benefit from different legal rights from those of a biological parent.  Although parental responsibility is not always needed, it is important for families to understand stepparents’ rights when they don’t fall into the typical nuclear family category.


Can I obtain parental rights towards my stepchildren?

Previously, parental responsibility for Step-parents could only be granted if they legally adopted the child. There are now alternative options.

Step-parents can obtain Parental Responsibility in appropriate cases, but it is not granted automatically, even after marrying the child’s biological parent. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility, and biological parents will usually have an easier path to obtaining formal parental rights, but this is far from the only option.

More than two adults can have parental responsibility, including same-sex couples and couples in civil partnerships

Step-parents must consider that where the biological parents are maintaining mutually supportive child care arrangements, there will usually be no need to seek formal parental responsibility.

Plenty of families are happy to not change their legal status, but there are some decisions a step-parent may need to be part of where parental responsibility is required. Many circumstances may occur where lines of communication with a natural parent are difficult and it isn’t always possible to consult with them over certain issues. This can include issues such as medical treatment or education.


Why choose Clifford Johnston?

Here at Clifford Johnston, our experienced team aims to assist with all legal aspects and to advise you as a family when you are looking for some clarity with regard to your legal position as a step-family.

We understand that every family is different which is why we are always clear in our approach. We handle all our cases with empathy, and we will work closely with you to ensure you have the practical solutions needed.

Get in touch today – our highly professional team will work tirelessly on your behalf and offer genuine care while dealing with your case.


Parental Responsibility Agreement

This option is the simplest to gain parental rights towards a step-child. There are two conditions you must meet.

  • You have to be married to the biological parent with whom the child lives 
  • You must gain consent from all persons with parental responsibility

If everyone agrees, this process is straightforward and there is no requirement to make an application to the court. 

The agreement must be signed by all parties at the court before it is registered. It remains in place until the child turns 16.

When the child’s other parent is not in agreement, then Step-parents will be required to apply to the court for parental responsibility. It will ultimately be the court’s decision based on the child’s best interests. The court will be reluctant to grant Step-parents an order if the non-resident parent is able to and willing to meet their parental responsibilities in an adequate way.


Child arrangement order

A Child Arrangement Order is a court order commonly used when a separating or divorcing couple can’t agree where their child should live. If a step-parent is named in the order as someone the child lives with, then, as a step-parent, you will be granted parental responsibility for as long as the order is in place. If you become your step-child’s legal guardian, then you will automatically gain parental responsibility.


What happens following the death of a parent?

When a biological parent passes away, Step-parents are likely to have questions about where their step-child will live. The level of contact will depend on the ability of the child’s surviving biological parent to look after the child, as well as your legal status as a step-parent. 

It is not uncommon for disagreements to arise and we are here to help during this difficult time to provide advice on any concerns you have with regards to your step-children.


Adopting a step-child

While Step-parents may seek parental responsibility as a simpler way of formalising the relationship between them and the step-children, some families decide to make things official with adoption. When applying for the adoption of a step-child the court will consider what is best for the child. 

Adoption is not always the best method for some families as it can end the legal status with the other biological parent. A court is unlikely to grant an adoption order unless there are very compelling reasons to do so.


Applying for an adoption order

For over 21s who have lived with their partner and child for at least 6 months, you can apply for an Adoption Order. This process can be long, as the local authority and the court need to be in agreement that the decision is best for the child.

The first step is to inform the local authority of your intentions to adopt your partner’s child. A social worker will then be appointed to assess your suitability.

You will be able to apply for an Adoption Order after a minimum of three months from notifying the local authority but no longer than two years. A sequence of hearings will be held to establish if adoption is suitable.

If the non-resident biological parent objects to an adoption order being made, the court will very carefully consider whether their objection is reasonable. The decision will be made in regards to the child’s best interests. This is a serious step, as the child’s relationship with their natural parent is likely to be brought to a complete end. The child’s birth certificate will be replaced by an adoption certificate.

It is important to carefully consider if adoption is the right thing for your family. Our family solicitors will provide you with the best legal advice regarding your circumstance.


Where can I make an adoption application, and who should you let know?

You have to inform the Local Authority children’s department of your intention to adopt a minimum of three months before issuing an application. They will assign a social worker to do a thorough check for the court.

Information will be obtained regarding the child, the child’s family situation, and about you and your partner, which means the social worker will need to meet with you and the child.

An adoption application is made to the Family Proceedings Court, the County Court, or the High Court. A non-refundable fee applies when you make an application to the court even if the court doesn’t make an adoption order or if you decide not to go ahead.

If both biological parents have Parental Responsibility for the child, the court will need to assign an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service to interview and observe any formal written consent. The officer’s job is to represent the child and ensure the court is informed of the child’s wishes and those of all relatives before making the order.

When a parent doesn’t have Parental Responsibility, the court doesn’t need their consent before agreeing to an adoption order. However, if the parent is close with their child, the court will want to know their views, in addition to the child’s.


Will the other parent be informed?

Yes, the court will acknowledge the child’s connection to the other parent, even if contact is non-existent. The court considers the child’s entire family connections, including the relationship the child has with their grandparents and other relevant people before making an adoption order, not only their current family arrangement. 

This is a condition in Section 1, Adoption and Children Act 2002. It can be confusing when a child grows up to discover they don’t have any legal connection with one side of their biological family.

A social worker and the CAFCASS officer will be in contact with the parent as well as you and the child and make suggestions in a written report to the court.


Factors to consider

There are many consequences of Step-parents adopting their step child. Many may be obvious, but there are many things to consider before going through an adoption application for a step child.

  • The adoption ends the legal relationship between a child and biological parent, including any relatives on that side of the family
  • The child will also lose all maintenance and inheritance rights
  • The step-parent becomes the legal parent with parental responsibility for the child forever
  • The child’s surname may be changed, if deemed appropriate
  • The child acquires rights to the step-parent’s estate
  • In the event of a separation or divorce, the step-parent remains the child’s adoptive parent and parental responsibility continues

It is very important to carefully consider the potential consequences of seeking a parental responsibility order or adoption in respect of a step-child. There could be negative consequences which are unforeseen, even if your intentions are well motivated. The Step-parents will find themselves with many new duties and responsibilities.

If you are unsure, it is a good idea to take early legal advice, before doing anything which may cause upset to the people involved. We will be able to help you identify the benefits and the disadvantages of any course of action which you are contemplating and help you reach the right decision.

Sometimes it may help if a solicitor makes an approach on your behalf to the non-resident parent. We will be able to explore with them how they would feel about any particular steps being taken, if you feel anxious about doing this directly.


Contact our Family Law Solicitors today

We regularly help local stepfamilies with all matters relating to Step-parents legal rights and parental responsibility so for professional, confidential advice contact us today.

Our friendly team will deal with your enquiry sensitively and with understanding, so contact us today for helpful and supportive advice.

Our Child Law Solicitors are based at both of our offices and their vast experience makes them an integral part of our team of Family Solicitors in Stockport & in Manchester.

With offices in Stockport (Heaton Moor) & Manchester (Burnage), our expert family solicitors are easily accessible.  We represent clients not only locally and throughout Stockport, Cheshire, Lancashire & Manchester but also across the United Kingdom. You can count on us to help and guide you whatever your challenge or circumstance.

Need some professional advice?

Do you have any issues that you are worried about? Contact our professional team for a free, no-obligation informal discussion, where we can discuss your particular requirements in greater detail.

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