If you’re a recently divorced step-parent and are wondering what rights you have to see your step-children, there are a few things you need to know. Jane Wheeler takes a look at what happens after a divorce, what measures a step-parent can take in order to gain access to a step-child, and whether there any financial obligations that need to be met.
A legal definition of ‘step-parent’
In order to work out what legal rights and responsibilities are shouldered by step-parents after a divorce, we first need to develop a working definition of what legally constitutes a step-parent. In the UK, step-parents are individuals who have married one of the biological parents of a child. Marriage is a legal prerequisite for step-parent status. Simply having lived with a biological parent for a substantial amount of time is not sufficient in itself. Though an individual may have assumed a traditional parental role for a child that’s not biologically theirs, it’s not until they marry that they become a step-parent.
Rights after the relationship ends
When a relationship ends, a step-parent may have questions over what their rights and responsibilities are to their step-children. What happens after a divorce can depend on whether the step-parent acquired parental responsibility for the child during the relationship. Parental responsibility is granted 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 gives individuals the legal right to make decisions regarding a child’s welfare, including decisions relating to medical, accommodation, and educational factors.
If a step-parent divorces the child’s biological parent, they have no automatic legal right to see the child. The only exception to this rule is if they have officially adopted the child. Though having acquired parental responsibility while in a relationship with the biological parent won’t change this, it may have a positive impact on proceedings if you decide to seek a court order that allows you to see the child.
Before it goes to court, the biological parent and the step-parent are required to go through a mediation process, in an attempt to resolve the issue through constructive discourse. If an agreement is still not reached, the step-parent can seek the intervention of the courts.
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 take all relevant circumstances into account before making a decision.
When it comes to a step-parent’s financial obligation to their step-child after a divorce, there’s 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, provide them with a place to live, or cover certain living costs.
In most scenarios, a step-parent won’t automatically be entitled to see their step-children if they divorce the biological parent. However, through face-to-face discussions, mediation, or a Child Arrangements Order, it is possible to gain access to your step-child. Step-parents also need to be aware that they may have certain financial obligations to their step-children after a divorce.
We have set out below a full list of the services our Family Department can provide whatever your circumstances. If you do however have a query which does not relate to any matter detailed below, please do contact our Family team who will endeavour to assist you.
Divorce or Civil Partnership Dissolution
Whether you are the Petitioner or the Respondent within proceedings or whether you are simply contemplating the same we can provide guidance throughout the entire process. We can assist with:
- Drafting of documents
- Negotiations with the other party
- Correspondence with third parties such as the Court
- Advice face to face, by telephone, by email.
Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
Whether you are planning to marry or indeed have now married and wish to formalise arrangements in the event of separation we can advise and assist with the following:
- Drafting agreements
- Negotiating settlement
- Corresponding with all parties
Whether you are married or living together and in the event you decide to go your separate ways we can assist in formally documenting terms of separation. We can assist in the following ways:
- Drafting Separation Agreements whether in contemplation of divorce or whether to simply record the split of a cohabiting couple
- Negotiations with third parties
- Providing you with advice whether face to face, by telephone or by email.
Arbitration is an alternative to resolving disputes through the Court. At Verisona Law we can assist in a number of ways either by assisting you through the Arbitration or by referring matters to our in house Arbitrator. We offer competitive arbitration rates and a member of our team will be happy to assist with any queries in this regard. Please see our current articles on Arbitration for more details about the process.
If you have chosen not to marry but wish to live together you may wish to formalise the arrangements and details for doing so. We can assist in the following:
- Drafting cohabitation agreements/living together agreements
- Negotiations with all parties
- Advising you in person, by telephone or email as appropriate.
Divorce where Business are involved
We have extensive experience in dealing with breakdown of marriage where one or both parties are owners of businesses or indeed it may be the family business. We have experience in providing you with advice and signposting for business valuations and will ensure that the business as an asset is dealt with appropriately within any proceedings.
In addition to being able to provide specialised advice in relation to Public Sector pensions our team at Verisona Law has vast knowledge concerning all pension arrangements and can ensure that they are dealt with appropriately within any divorce proceedings. Please seek advice from a member of our team.
We are able to advise on all aspects of Parental Responsibility including:
- Agreements / Orders
- Exercising your Parental Responsibility rights and duties where appropriate
- Arising out of Parental Responsibility we can advise on applications for a Specific Issue Order to the Court if appropriate.
If you have any queries concerning Parental Responsibility and its impact on you or indeed whether you have Parental Responsibility for your children, please seek advice from a member of our team.
Assisting through Mediation
Whilst we do direct a number of matters through Mediation, this does not mean that you cannot have legal advice throughout the process. We can advise and assist you through the Mediation process and arrange thereafter to draw up formally any agreement reached be this by way of a Consent Order in divorce proceedings or simply to record in an open document the agreement you have reached at Mediation concerning the subject of your dispute.
Whether you are married or otherwise, or indeed simply have an interest in a property owned by another we can provide you with advice and assistance including;
- Applications to the Court
- Negotiations with all parties
- Advising and assisting you face to face, by telephone or by email.
This is an alternative way to resolve family disputes without the involvement of the Court. The Collaborative process requires both parties to have a Collaborative Lawyer and endeavours to resolve any disputes by way of four way meetings. We at Verisona Law can assist you through the Collaborative process. If this is an avenue of resolving dispute that you would be interested in, please contact a member of our team.
We at Verisona Law can provide you with advice and guidance concerning any disputes you may have relating to your child. This may be with whom the child lives, with whom the child spends time with, a specific issue concerning a child or steps that you wish to take to prevent something happening (Prohibited Steps Order). We can also advise you in relation to maintenance disputes with a third party guidance with dealing with the Child Maintenance Service. If you have a query with any issue concerning your child please contact a member of our team.
Change of Name
Please contact a member of our team if you are interested in changing your first or surname to discuss the drafting of a Change of Name Deed. We offer a fixed price for a Change of Name and we can provide you with further information upon request.
I went to Verisona Law because I had been unsatisfied with two previous attempts with other firms. Verisona gave that real sense of service, made.me feel like a client they were happy to assist at all times and ultimately gave the BEST advice and guidance. Dont waste money; go to Verisona FIRST!