Legal power for step-parents?

18th August 2022



Parental Responsibility (PR) means the legal power to make decisions for a child, i.e., school enrolment applications and consenting to medical treatment. Separated parents in new marriages will sometimes ask if their new spouse can obtain PR for their children, but this is not always straight-forward.

Biological mothers will automatically hold PR, as will biological fathers who are married to the mother, and those fathers named on the Birth Certificate. The step-parent however, will not automatically hold this, even though they may be a significant presence in a child’s life on a day-to-day basis, and actually take them to school etc.

In order to obtain PR, a step-parent would need to either:-

  1. Enter into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with the other parents that hold PR and then submit this to the Court to be made legally binding; or
  2. Apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order; or
  3. Apply to the Court for, or be named in a Child Arrangements Order as, a person with whom the child lives.

Option (1) is the most straightforward route, but requires cooperation, and sometimes the other parent (the biological mother or father) may have reservations about this, and fear being ‘replaced’. If this cannot be agreed, the step-parent will have to apply to the Court for an Order if they wish to take this further.

When giving this decision consideration, the step-parent will need to bear in mind the requirement to attend mediation before going to Court, and the fact that, once started, a Court process can be stressful and time consuming. Contested proceedings should involve the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) – effectively, social workers for the Court – and so background checks would be undertaken before Hearings were scheduled to try and resolve this issue.

Whether a Step-Parent needs to share PR will depend on the specific family circumstances – if their partner, the parent, is ‘on hand’, they may not actually need to liaise with school teachers and doctors, but if one parent lives very far away, or the other has health issues of their own, the step-parent may need PR for day-to-day purposes, to step in and make decisions in the absence of the parents.

If you need specialist advice regarding a matter involving children, you can contact Daniel Sims from our expert family law team today by email or telephone 01553 666407


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This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek advice specific to your own circumstances.  Fraser Dawbarns LLP are always happy to provide such advice.

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