Step families and ‘blended’ families are a very common feature of modern life. The definition of a step parent also appears to becoming more and more wide ranging. Step parents are often viewed as anyone who has taken on the role of a parent whether through divorce, death or otherwise. Step parenting now seem to encompass more situations than ever before but the legal definition of a step parent is very specific:-
Step-mother – A woman who is married to one’s father after the divorce of one’s parents or the death of one’s mother.
Step-father – A man who is married to one’s mother after the divorce of one’s parents or the death of one’s father.
[Source: Oxford dictionary]
So, a step parent only becomes a step parent upon marriage to one of the biological parents. You are not a step parent from a legal perspective if you are only living together with your partner – no matter how long for.
Typically, a stepparent doesn’t have any legal ‘custody’ rights to stepchildren. This can have a very profound impact on the workings of a blended family. Step parents are very likely to develop close relationships with children who may of course also be in close contact with both their biological parents. The law places considerable importance on the rights and responsibility of birth parents but what rights and responsibilities do step parents acquire when they marry a child’s birth parent.
You have recently married your spouse who has two children, Lily and Harry. Your spouse is at brownie camp with Lily for a few days leaving you to care for Harry at home. Harry is out playing football with his mates at the park. You get a visit from a police officer who tells you that Harry has been in a fight and has harmed another boy. He is also injured and has been taken to hospital in an ambulance. He needs an operation on his broken jaw and the police also want to question him further about his behaviour. You cannot get hold of Harry’s mother or his biological father. What do you do and more importantly what are you allowed to do? The answer lies in whether you have ‘Parental Responsibility’ or not.
This post forms part of a series of articles on the FLP blog on the subject of step-families and step-parenting. We are proud to have Kim Crewe, Family Consultant with Separation Matters, on board as a guest blogger.
Kim will be exploring the impact of new family structures on the whole family – her first post explores the perspective of the children. Read the post here: www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/changing-family-structures-living-in-a-stepfamily