Step-parent Obtains Parental Responsibility for child

It is of course common that a separated parent will form a new relationship and their new partner will become the step-parent of their children.

And in such circumstances the step-parent may wish to form a legal relationship with the children.

The most common way in which they may do this is to seek to adopt the children.

But there is another option, albeit quite rarely used: they can apply to the court for parental responsibility for the children.

A recent case demonstrated how the court might approach such an application.

The case concerned two children, aged 14 and 11. Their parents separated some years ago, and in 2017 they agreed upon a shared care arrangement whereby the children would spend half of their time with each parent.

Meanwhile, the father remarried, having lived with his new wife, the children’s stepmother, since 2014.

In May last year the stepmother, supported by the father, applied to the court for parental responsibility for the children.

We are told that the application was made because she felt that the time had come for her status within the family to be properly recognised and, more importantly, her position in the children’s lives to be noted for their understanding and benefit.

In particular, the stepmother contended that it would be in the children’s welfare interests to know formally that she is a permanent and respected figure in their lives, accepted as part of the wider family framework which exists.

She was also concerned that if an emergency were to develop, she needed to be able to deal with that in an efficient and effective way if she was the person “on the spot”, and having parental responsibility would enable her to make the necessary decisions in such circumstances.

The mother opposed the application, contending that it was unreasonable and unnecessary.

The judge decided in favour of the stepmother. Everything he had heard, he said, reflected the very essence of the relationship of parent and child between the stepmother and the children. The stepmother was not a transient individual in the lives of the children – she had been there for many years and remained invested for the long haul.

Accordingly, he granted the stepmother parental responsibility.

You can read the full judgment in the case here.

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