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Legal Advice for Stepfamilies
It is common for parents and step-parents to want to regulate and cement their legal status towards the children of a family once a new family unit has been established, and the solicitors at JMW are here to provide the expert advice you need in what can be a complex area of law. We can assist you with all paperwork and documentation to make sure everything is completed correctly and with the utmost efficiency.
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A step-parent does not automatically acquire legal rights (parental responsibility) towards a step-child, even if you marry one of the child's parents. It is not a requirement for a step-parent to acquire parental responsibility for a stepchild and many families manage perfectly well without the step-parent acquiring parental responsibility. However, this can limit your ability to undertake certain tasks, and restricts your right to make certain decisions in respect of the child's upbringing.
There are four ways in which you can acquire parental responsibility for your stepchild. They are:
- By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with everyone else who holds parental responsibility for the child. This is signed at the court and then registered, without the need for an application, but requires all other holders of parental responsibility to consent. Once conferred, this will last throughout the child's minority unless removed by the court
- By making an application to the court for parental responsibility
- By making an application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order that provides for the child to live with you. In these circumstances, parental responsibility only lasts so long as the order remains active/in force
- By adopting the child
A step-parent is not always entitled to make an application to the court as of right and depending on the circumstances, you may need the agreement of everyone else who holds parental responsibility for the child, or permission from the court, before you can do so.
It is not uncommon for stepfamilies to wish to secure the status of the new family legally through adoption. It is now possible for a step-parent to adopt a stepchild without the birth parent also having to do so. It is not always necessary for there to be an adoption, often it is sufficient for you to obtain parental responsibility for the child through one of the more straightforward methods instead.
Because step-parent adoption has the effect of ending the child's legal relationship with his/her second parent, it is not an order that the court will sanction lightly. The court will consider carefully whether it is in the best interests of the child concerned to have that original link severed or whether alternative orders are more appropriate or proportionate. It is therefore important to consider which solution is most likely to be appropriate in the specific circumstances before an application is made, in order to avoid unnecessary delay and expense.
There are a number of issues that can arise when one or both parents die. These can include the issues of:
- Where a child will live
- With whom a child will live
- What contact the child will have with surviving members of the family or close friends
It is not uncommon for disagreements to arise during what is a particularly difficult and emotional time for all concerned.
Our family team has extensive experience of assisting surviving parents, step-parents, extended family and close friends following the death of a parent, and in helping single parents secure the future arrangements for their child in advance of their death.
The team at JMW is here to help you with all legal aspects and to provide the support and advice you need as a step-parent looking to understand and clarify your legal position with regard to a child.
Known for our directness and pragmatism, we will help you reach a satisfactory conclusion for a matter that can seem both highly complex and highly emotionally charged. We are highly experienced in all aspects of family law and our solicitors are highly approachable and understanding.