Step-Parents – Legal Rights
A step-parent does not automatically enjoy any rights in relation to the children of their partners. It is recognised that the role of step-parent is a daunting and at times seemingly thankless one involving as it does the responsibility for looking after children without any of the legal “powers” of a parent.
However, step-parents can now acquire parental responsibility when they are married (or in a civil partnership) with one of the parents of the child concerned and either both natural parents of the child [assuming they both hold legal parental responsibility] execute a formal parental responsibility agreement or the court directs that the step-parent be granted parental responsibility. A step-parent can also acquire parental responsibility by securing an adoption order – but this is rarely appropriate because an adoption order will terminate the legal relationship with the natural parent.
A step-parent [who is married to one of the child’s natural parents] is entitled as of right to apply to Court for a “Section 8 Order” [Section 8 Children Act 1989] which includes orders for residence and contact. If the step-parent is not actually married to the child’s natural parent they may still apply to Court as of right if they have lived with the child for three or more years. If the relationship is for less than three years in duration either where all parties with parental responsibility give consent or where the Court grants leave – which it may do in cases where the judge considers this to be in the best interests of the child.