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4 things every parent should know when it comes to step-children

Back in 2014 I co-wrote this article on the legal implications of step-parent relationships: https://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/content/step-parents-family-or-legal-strangers

The law has moved on since that time, although many of the legal concepts remain the same. Given the prevalence of step-families in modern family life, this is an area of law with increasing practical significance for natural parents and step-parents alike. Step-parents are a common and established feature of modern family life. By the age of 16, 50% of the UK’s children do not live with both their birth parents.

‘Blended families’ come with their own unique challenges. Here are 4 things that every parent should know when it comes to step-children:

  1. In certain situations, for example where a child needs urgent medical treatment, the authorities will need to deal with someone with parental responsibility. A step-parent does not automatically obtain parental responsibility for a step-child just by marrying or entering into a civil partnership with the child’s parent.
  2. There are different ways in which step-parents can formalise their relationship with their step-child and obtain legal rights. These include Parental Responsibility Agreements/Orders and Child Arrangement Orders. The most transformative and fundamental of these legal options is step-parent adoption.
  3. The Child Maintenance Service cannot make an assessment against a step-parent. However, in terms of financial arrangements on divorce, a step-parent may be required to provide financial provision for a child where the child has been treated as a “child of the family”, even if they have divorced from the child’s parent.
  4. If a step-child was treated as a child of the family by a married step-parent, or was financially dependent on a step-parent who has died, and there is either no or inadequate provision on the death of the step-parent, s/he can potentially make an application to the court under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Many step-parents have little or no awareness of their rights and responsibilities and are often unaware of the legal implications of their family relationships. It is important to take legal advice at an early stage.

If you would like to speak to me or one of our other family law specialists about this or other family matters please contact us.

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