What rights and obligations do step-parents have on divorce?

26 January, 2017

Step-parents are often heavily involved in their step-children’s upbringings and want that to continue, even if their relationship with the children’s biological parent breaks down.

In reality, the rights and responsibilities that they have will depend on whether or not they have acquired ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility is “all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” What does this mean?  Those with parental responsibility can be involved in important decisions in relation to the child, including those relating to education, medical treatment and religion.

But step-parents do not automatically acquire parental responsibility. They can only acquire it either with the consent of all those who do have parental responsibility, or by order of the court.


Following the breakdown of a relationship, it is always preferable to try to reach an amicable agreement regarding the children’s on-going care and contact arrangements, without recourse to the courts.

However, step-parents who are unable to reach agreement with their ex-partners about the level of involvement they continue to have in their step-children’s lives may make an application to the court for a child arrangements order regulating with whom the children are to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with.

When determining the application, the court’s paramount consideration will be the children’s welfare.

Financial provision

The Child Maintenance Service (formally the Child Support Agency) cannot enforce maintenance payments from step-parents. Instead, an application can be made to the court as part of the divorce and financial remedy proceedings.  The courts have the power to order child maintenance payments from step-parents if the children were treated as ‘children of the family.’

If you have any questions in relation to anything discussed in this post, or about any aspect of family law, contact Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191 or at claire.tollefson@crippspg.co.uk.