Newcastle’s Top Divorce and Family Law Specialists comment in the North East Times
Who remembers The Brady Bunch? The US television series featuring a large “blended” family was the ultimate fairy tale in step-family living. Conceived in the mid 1960’s, the idea arose after the programme creator read that 30% of US marriages at the time had a child or children from a previous marriage.
The reality may seem a far cry from the screen perfection of The Brady Bunch, and cries of “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my Dad!” actually have more truth to them than the wily child may realise.
In law, the concept of parenting is bundled up into something called Parental Responsibility. This is defined as “…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”.
If you were looking for guidance on what it means to be a parent, that definition is not going to win any awards. If you consider being a parent, however, it starts with choosing a name before the baby is even born. Whether the baby will be breast fed, raised vegetarian; whether it will be baptized, circumcised, or raised without religion; where the child will live, be schooled, disciplined… these are all parental decisions that affect the child and are envisaged by the Children Act definition of Parental Responsibility, whilst at its most basic, being a parent means you have a duty to protect, maintain and provide for your child.
In modern living, the role of parent may be taken on by more than just mother and father: step-parents are common, and in many cases, a step-parent may completely substitute the parenting that has been lacking from a biological parent.
Even when a step-parent has featured prominently in a child’s life for a long period of time, however, that person has no legal standing in respect of the child. This can have implications in a surprising number of everyday situations: consider the situation where the step-parent regularly does the school run. Without the consent from the child’s biological parent, the school can refuse to release the child to the step-parent. Equally, the school cannot accept consent forms signed by a step-parent without the authority of the biological parent.
Imagine also that the step-parent is caring for the child and the child has an accident requiring a trip to A&E. The step-parent cannot give the hospital consent to carry out treatment or administer drugs to the child, and the consent of the biological parent would first need to be sought.
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, 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’s still possible to obtain Parental Responsibility 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 can provide expert advice on what it means to be a step-parent and we can guide you in obtaining Parental Responsibility. We have even devised a fixed fee package for step-parents. Contact us to find out more.
It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.
~ Johann Schiller ~
Rebecca Tarn is a solicitor at Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists.