Oftentimes parents find themselves in serious relationships, or marriages, to partners who are not the biological parent of their children. And, despite the fact that these adults are not biologically related to their spouse or partner’s children, they do care deeply for these young people. Many times these new partners are the most prominent second parent in the child’s life.  When such deep bonds are formed the step-parent often wants to take more financial and legal responsibility for the upbringing of these children. But how can this be done?

In most situations, it is not done via any legal process. Instead, a step-parent chooses to be fully involved in the upbringing, education and extracurricular activities of the children but with no legal obligation to do so. Many of these parents also provide a great deal of emotional and financial support to their partner or spouses biological children. Yet, under these circumstances, the step-parent does not have any say in the legal decision making processes for these youngsters. The lack of decision-making power includes;

  • Medical decisions
  • Educational decision
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Apply for legal documents with the child, such as passports and driver’s licenses
  • Signing off on forms giving permission for school events
  • In the event of the death of the biological parent, the relationship between the step-parent and non-biological children has no legal standing

In addition, step-parents are not financially legally responsible for step-children. During the course of the marriage, step-parents are not asked to contribute toward child support payments, nor is their income taken into consideration when the Court makes its determination as to how much child support each biological parent is responsible for. Furthermore, in the event that the relationship with the step-child’s parent dissolves, the step-parent does not remain legally responsible for the step-child in any fashion. Only under rare circumstances would the Court consider levying legal financial responsibility on a non-biological parent.

There are only two routes available to a step-parent who would like to take on legal responsibility for a non-biological child; 1) Formal Adoption or 2) Parenting Orders

In the event of attempting a formal legal adoption of a step-child, the process must include both biological parents, unless one parent is deceased. The parent the child is being adopted away from must consent to the step-parent adopting the step-child. The reason being is that once the adoption is completed, the parent who gave consent will also be giving up all of their legal rights to the child. This means that the parent/child relationship will be legally severed. The parent will no longer have any legal rights pertaining to the medical, educational, or financial responsibilities for the child. Hence this parent will not have any future decision-making capabilities in any of these areas for their biological child. In the majority of families, this level of legal change in a relationship can be almost impossible to get the other biological parent to agree to.  

The second option for a step-parent to take on legal responsibility for a step-child is through the Parenting Order process. Parents can request a Parenting Order allow for specific arrangements that give the step-parent legal rights. Some of these rights can include;

  • Picking a child up from school
  • Transporting a child for extracurricular activities, both in and out of town
  • Access to events the child participates in such as sports, music or theatre
  • Information regarding a step-child’s education and health care
  • The right to communicate separately with a step-child

However, it is important to note that being granted Parenting Orders over a non-biological child is more the exception than the rule. Often it is only granted when there are circumstances warranting the need for an additional legally responsible adult, such as in the case of the child’s safety or welfare.

Many step-parents and step-children find themselves in healthy enjoyable relationships with each other. And, most often, the step-parent’s involvement and contribution to the health and welfare of their partner or spouse’s children is completely voluntary, creating no legal responsibilities for these children. However, while it may be rare, if the situation warrants, it is possible for step-parents to assume some or all levels of legal responsibility for these children. But, it must be remembered that such steps are wholly voluntary and/or require the permission of the other biological parent.

If you find yourself in need of assistance with this or any other legal issue, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.