What if you are a step parent and you want to have Parental Responsibility for your step child? How can you achieve that?

  • The easiest way would be to enter into a Step-Parent Responsibility Agreement with both of the child’s parents. It would not be effective simply for the married couple to enter into the Agreement, the “other” parent would need to consent.
  • In the absence of consent then an application to Court could be made for a Child Arrangements Order.

Both an Agreement and an Order would remain effective until the child reached 18 years, even if the couple separate or divorce, or there is an order for the dissolution of their civil partnership. It would be possible for the Court to grant Parental Responsibility to a step parent who is no longer living with the step-child if an application for a Child Arrangement Order is made for the step-parent to spend time with the child.

However these options are not available if you are not married, even if you have been in a long term relationship with the child’s parent with whom the child lives.

  • Another way would be to apply for an Adoption Order which would grant you Parental Responsibility for life. An Adoption Order can be made for a child who is under the age of 18 years or reaches 18 during the proceedings.

You would not need to be married to or in a civil partnership with the parent of the child in question (or in a same sex relationship) but must have been living with the child for at least six months before the application is made, and provide the Local Authority (in the area where the child lives) written notice of your intention at least three months before the application is made.

If an Adoption Order is made in your favour this would not affect the Parental Responsibility of your spouse or partner. Of vital significance is that it would extinguish the Parental Responsibility of the other parent, or anyone else holding Parental Responsibility. For that reason, it is important that the application is served upon the other parent, any guardian. Even if the biological father does not have Parental Responsibility (eg he was not named as the child’s father on the birth certificate) it is good practice to serve him with a copy of the application too.

The Local Authority will also be served as will CAFCASS.

What does the Court consider?

The child’s welfare is paramount and in considering this should take into account, for example, the likely effect of the Order on the child’s life, the child’s wishes and feelings (these usually carries more weight the older the child), the value of any relationship the child has with any relatives and whether this is likely to continue, and whether those relatives are able and willing to provide the child with a secure environment to meet his or her needs.

The consent of both parents (and/or guardian) is vital and if forthcoming would make the process much easier. However, if consent is refused, the Court does has the power to dispense with consent. In these circumstances the child is usually made a party to the proceedings and a Guardian appointed to represent the child’s interests.

After the filing of statements and evidence by all parties, the Local Authority and CAFCASS, a decision will be made as to whether consent may be dispensed with and whether an Adoption Order should be made.

The non-consenting parent is likely to argue that Article 8 (a right to family life) rights would be infringed by the making of the Order. Case law in this area provides guidance as to the circumstances which are likely to reduce the degree of interference with Human Rights, for example, where the non-consenting parent has not had the care of the child or asserted his or responsibility for the child; where his or her contact with the child has been infrequent or there has been no contact; and where the child continues to live in a well- established family unit with the other parent and the step-parent.

It is recognised by the Courts that each application must be decided on its own merits: what is required to dispense with parental consent will alter from case to case. This must include consideration as to the role of the biological father in the child’s life as to quality, importance and substance.

Last and certainly not least, before making such a draconian decision the Court must bear in mind that the adoptive parent would be a parent for life and this responsibility would not end with the death of or separation from the other parent. Given that an Adoption Order would have such far reaching and significant consequences, the Court has a delicate and important balancing act to perform, and any decision will not be taken lightly.

If you would like any advice in relation to this issue do not hesitate to contact any member of the Family Law Team at Ringrose Law we have offices in Lincoln, Boston, Spalding, Sleaford, Grantham and Newark.

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