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Do Step Parents Have Any Legal Rights After Divorce?

Posted: 15th February 2022
Written by: Family Law Team

The short answer, in legal terms, is none.

Toddler in red rain jacket and holding an umbrella stands opposite step-mum in yellow rain jacket.

Whilst you might be involved in the children’s daily routine and care, marrying someone with children does not automatically entitle you to ‘parental responsibility’ for them or a legal status in their lives. The mother to the children always has parental responsibility and most, although not all, biological fathers do.

However, there are means in which a step parent can be granted ‘parental responsibility’ for their step child, even after divorcing the child’s biological parent.

What is the legal definition of a step parent?

By UK family law, a step parent is an individual who has married one of the biological parents of a child. Being partners, engaged or even cohabiting is not enough for someone to be legally viewed as a step parent – they must be married to the biological parent.

How do step parents gain rights after divorce?

Since December 2005, it has been possible for a step-parent to achieve parental responsibility by way of an agreement between the step-parent and the natural parents. This must be done through a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement.

If an agreement is not forthcoming, you can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. All parties with parental responsibility would need to be provided with notice of an application to the court.

Before proceeding to court, the step parent and natural parent must go through mediation. If an agreement cannot be agreed upon, the step parent can apply for a court order.

‘Parental responsibility’ can also be gained by adopting the child.

What does ‘parental responsibility’ mean?

Parental responsibility means that you have the same rights and responsibilities as the children’s natural parents, including authorising medical treatment and making day to day decisions. Consultation with both the other parents is needed before making any major decisions which could significantly affect a child’s upbringing, such as a decision in relation to which school a child should attend.

‘Parental responsibility’ laws definition

In the Children Act 1989, “parental responsibility” means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.

The fact that a person has, or does not have, parental responsibility for a child shall not affect:

– any obligation which he may have in relation to the child (such as a statutory duty to maintain the child); or

– any rights which, in the event of the child’s death, he (or any other person) may have in relation to the child’s property.

A person who does not have parental responsibility for a particular child but has care of the child, must (subject to the provisions of this Act) do what is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.


Specialist legal advice for parents

If you’re concerned about your step parent rights after divorce and wish to discuss this, or any other family law issues, please get in touch on 01423 789050 or Our specialist family law team will be happy to help.