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Guide to stepparent rights

When trying to understand your rights to a child, it is important to make the distinction between being a parent and having parental responsibility. The two are not the same thing. For example, biologically you can be a childs parent, however at the same time, for whatever reason, you might not necessarily have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility has no effect on succession, citizenship, or domicile; however, it does mean that a person can have a certain degree of control over a childs life. Again, being a childs biological parent can give you all the rights towards that child, or none at all. This would be due to not having parental responsibility for various reasons. When deciding whether you wish to apply for parental responsibility over a child, it is important to be aware of what that entails and the responsibilities you will hold towards that child.

What is Parental Responsibility

The woman that gives birth to a child automatically receives parental responsibility for that child from the moment it is born. However, the same is not applied to the childs father. In order for the father to obtain parental responsibility, one of the following must apply. Firstly, if the childs parents are married or in a civil partnership at the time of their birth, the father will automatically receive parental responsibility. If not married, then only the mother will receive automatic parental responsibility. In order for the father or any other person to acquire the same status he must either:

  • Marry the childs mother
  • Enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Obtain a court order which gives him parental responsibility
  • Be named in a child arrangement order
  • Be registered as the father on the childs birth certificate
  • Become the childs guardian
  • Adopt the child

How does a stepparent obtain the same rights?

A stepparent can gain parental responsibility of a child through a child arrangement order if they are named in the order as the person that the child is to:

  • Live with
  • Spend time with

In addition, that step-parent must receive formal consent from all other persons with parental responsibility for that particular child. Once they have obtained the order and consent, a step-parent is then obliged to uphold all of the same standards and responsibilities as a biological parent when it comes to looking after the child. If the parents do not agree to the step-parent obtaining parental responsibility, it is much more difficult for a step-parent to gain any rights over that child.

Another option for the stepparent is adopting the child. For adoption, it is necessary to inform the local council three months before applying for an adoption order. The child also has to have lived with the parent and stepparent for at least six months. The process if very similar to adoptions through an agency. There is an assessment that is used by the courts to determine whether the stepparent can adopt the child. There will need to be a report by a social worker on the stepparent, parent and other biological parent. If granted, the stepparent will gain parental responsibility over the child with their partner, the biological parent. The other biological parent will lose all parental responsibility (as well as anyone else that has it).

Stepparent rights in divorce cases

Like any other biological child, if the relationship between a stepparent and the child of their ex-spouse is one which wants to be continued post-divorce settlement, there are a few options for the adult in question. The court will often issue a child arrangement order for the stepparent if they believe that the continuation of that childs relationship with the adult is beneficial to them. However, an important thing to note is that once a stepparent has divorced from the childs biological parent with parental responsibility, they themselves are no longer able to acquire parental responsibility.

Do all stepparents need to apply for rights

As a stepparent, you do not automatically hold responsibility for your spouses children, this must be something you both apply for and desire. The court must make an order for the stepparent for them to have the same rights as a biological parent with parental responsibility has. Where it could be important to obtain parental responsibility is in situations where you are financially responsible for a child or where you could be put in the position where you would; need to make medical decisions for that child. Finally, it is important to note that when deciding whether to take on parental responsibility of a child, you become entirely responsible for the wellbeing of that child and will be held to the same standard as any biological parent.


In conclusion, it is therefore not impossible for stepparents to have rights over their stepchildren, however it will most likely include a formal legal order. Likewise, there are similar orders and procedures that can be taken by other members of family. These include grandparents, aunts, and uncles and even siblings.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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