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Knowing your rights as a step-parent after a divorce

If you are a step-parent and are wondering what rights you have in regard to seeing your step-children, there’s a number of things you need to know.

In many scenarios, a step-parent won’t be entitled to see their step-children once they divorce the biological parent. As a result, face-to-face discussions and mediation are often needed to establish a right to see them.

Sometimes, obtaining a Child Arrangements Order can be the best option, with advice from a family law expert on this being invaluable.

Step-parents also need to be aware that they may have certain financial obligations to their step-children after a divorce.

A legal definition of ‘step-parent’

Before exploring further, it’s useful to clarify what the law considers to be a ‘step-parent’.

In the UK, step-parents must be married to a biological parent of a child.

Simply living together for a substantial period is not sufficient,  whether or not the individual has taken on a traditional parental role.

Rights after the relationship ends

When a relationship ends, a step-parent may have questions over their rights and responsibilities regarding their step-children.

What happens next can depend on whether the step-parent acquired parental responsibility for the child during the relationship.

Parental responsibility is acquired in one of three ways:

  • By agreement with all other individuals who already have parental responsibility
  • By adopting the child
  • By going through the courts and obtaining a court order.

Parental responsibility jointly gives individuals the legal right to make decisions regarding a child’s welfare, including decisions relating to medical treatment, relocation, religion, and education.

Acquiring parental responsibility while in a relationship with the biological parent can have a positive impact in court, if an order to see the child is requested.


Before going to court, the biological parent and the step-parent are required to go through a mediation process, in an attempt to resolve the issue.

If mediation is unsuitable, or if no agreement is reached, the step-parent can opt for court action.

Child Arrangements Order

For step-parents hoping to continue their relationship with their step-child, the most useful legal tool is a Child Arrangements Order.

These orders determine where the child lives and with whom they spend their time.

A variety of factors come into play when step-parents apply for a Child Arrangements Order and the official in charge will consider all circumstances before making a decision.

Financial responsibilities

When it comes to a step-parent’s financial obligation to their step-child after a divorce, there are a few things to remember.

First, the Child Maintenance Service can’t require a step-parent to pay maintenance for a step-child.

However, if the step-child was raised as if it were part of a new family – consisting of the step-parent, biological parent, and any children – the courts could determine that the step-parent needs to cover some costs.

In such a case, they may ask the step-parent to make monthly maintenance payments, lump-sum payments, school fees payments or provide them with a place to live. Claims for reasonable maintenance may also be made on death.

For more information or if you have any questions as a step-parent, please contact our specialist Family Law solicitor, Mike Spencer on 0115 9 100 200 or click here to send an email.

Posted on July 25, 2018

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