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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 advice on this or any other Family Law issue, please get in touch with our team of specialist Family Lawyers on 0115 9 100 200 or send us a message.

Posted on July 25, 2018

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