What are a step-parent's rights after divorce?

Separation is always difficult, without the added worry of being a step-parent.

 The law in England and Wales can make it difficult on step-parents after separation.

 When a relationship ends, it is important for a step-parent to know and understand their rights and responsibilities in regard to their step-children.

What is a step-parent?

In the UK, to be classed as a ‘step-parent’ you must have been married or have entered a civil partnership with one of the child’s biological parents. Just living together will not be sufficient, unless during the relationship you acquired parental responsibility for the child.

 This can be done in the following ways:

  • Adopting the child
  • A legal agreement with all others who have parental responsibility
  • A court order

What are step-parent’s rights?

If parental responsibility has been acquired, then the step-parent has the legal right to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare such as medical treatment, relocation and education.

If parental responsibility has not been acquired then the step-parent has no automatic right of entitlement to see the step-child. However, there are steps that can be taken by an individual to obtain this right.

Firstly, it is required by the court that the step-parent and biological parent try to overcome their disagreement via the mediation process or face to face discussions. This way both parties can try to focus on the wellbeing of the child rather than the issues within the relationship.

If, through mediation, an agreement cannot successfully be reached the next step would be to apply to the court for a child arrangement order. A child arrangement order specifies the living and contact arrangements regarding a child. Often the judge will focus on the impact it would have on the step-child if the relationship with the step-parent does or does not continue.

Responsibilities of a step-parent

Whether it is through mediation or a court order it is possible for a step-parent to gain and continue contact with a step-child. However, it is important to be aware that a step-parent may also gain financial obligations towards the step-child after a divorce. Although, the child maintenance service (CMS) cannot force payment of child maintenance from a step-parent the court can request continuation of financial provision for the child.

Legal support for step-parents

We understand that the break of a bond built between a step-parent and step-child can have a significant negative effect on both parties. The Family Law team here at Verisona Law have the experience and knowledge to advise and assist you.

We offer a free 20 minute Family Law consultation to discuss your concerns.

If you would like to book an appointment at our Waterlooville office please call us on 023 9298 1000 or email connect@verisonalaw.com.


  • Child Arrangement Orders
  • Parental Responsibility
  • Specific Issues and Prohibited Steps
  • Leave to remove
  • Financial Arrangements for Children
  • Changing a Child’s name
  • Rights of grandparents

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