Newcastle’s Top Divorce and Family Law Specialist, Joanne Major comments in theTyne Valley Express

The school summer holidays are upon us! That time of the year when parents are driven demented and long for September.

In the modern family structure, parenting often involves step-families. The cry “you can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my Dad!” is more than just a cliché. Being a step-parent is not an easy job, but neither is it an uncommon one.

There are legal implications to being a step-parent too. No matter how involved you are in the upbringing of a child, if you are not related, then you have no legal standing in respect of that child. Whilst this may not be evident on a day by day basis, it means a step-parent is not entitled or authorised to take decisions relating to the child’s upbringing.

A perfect example of such a situation is if the step-parent is caring for the child, and the child has an accident requiring a trip to A&E. The step-parent cannot legally sign the consent forms for any required treatment, and the hospital cannot treat the child until the consent of one of the biological parents is obtained.

Such decision making in relation to raising children has been encapsulated in the legal definition of what is called Parental Responsibility, which is “…all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

All mothers who give birth to a child automatically have parental responsibility, but it is not automatic for fathers. Although the mechanism has been in place for some time for biological fathers to acquire parental responsibility to acknowledge their role in their child’s life, the law has now envisaged the situation where it may be appropriate to acknowledge a step-parent’s role too.

For the purposes of the law, you are classed as a step-parent if you are married to the child’s biological parent. If you have consistently played a significant parenting role in the life of your step-child, there may be a number of benefits to that role being legally recognised.

If everyone who has Parental Responsibility for the child agrees (and this can be just the mother, or the mother and the father), a legal agreement can be drawn up and ratified by the Court granting the step parent Parental Responsibility alongside the biological parent or parents. This does not diminish either the other parents’ rights and responsibilities towards the child or their duty to maintain, but it can be significant for both the step-parent and the child in acknowledging their relationship.

Even if the absent parent doesn’t agree, it is still possible to obtain Parental Responsibility as a step-parent if the Court is satisfied that it is in the child’s best interests to make such an order.

At Major Family Law, we embrace supporting the family in whatever guise that takes. We think more step-parents should be made aware of their position and acknowledged for their role in the family. If you or someone you know is a step-parent, come and talk to us about our step-parent package, and have a happy summer!

Joanne Major is owner of Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Twitter@majorfamilylaw

Tel: 01661 82 45 82