Alicia Keys’ 2016 song Blended Family (What you do for love) includes the line “It may not be easy this blended family…but that’s what you do for love”.
Blended families are increasingly common. With approximately 42% of marriages ending in divorce there are now many families that feature step-parents. Statistics suggest that 1 in 2 divorced parents go on to re-marry or re-partner. They may then have further children with that partner.
Modern families may be evolving, but the law is not always as responsive.
One of the key considerations for family lawyers when dealing with children issues is whether a person has parental responsibility for a child. It is important to remember that not all parents have parental responsibility and it is also possible for step-parents or other family members or, in some cases friends, to acquire it.
What is parental responsibility and why is it important?
The Children Act 1989 describes parental responsibility as all rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority that a parent has in relation to a child and that child’s property.
Essentially parental responsibility gives the holder the right to a say in major decisions in a child’s life such as consenting to medical treatment on their behalf and making decisions about schooling.
Parental responsibility can be acquired in a number of ways:
- A child’s biological mother will always have parental responsibility;
- A child’s biological father will obtain parental responsibility if he is:
- Married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or they later marry;
- They enter into a parental responsibility agreement or the court makes a parental responsibility order or a child arrangements order providing for the child to live with the father;
- The father is registered on the child’s birth certificate as being the child’s father (for all births registered on or after 1st December 2003)
- Another family member or friend can obtain parental responsibility by:
- The court making a child arrangements order in their favour that the child live with them;
- By being appointed as guardian for the child in a biological parent’s Will (provided there is no other surviving person with parental responsibility)
- A step parent can obtain parental responsibility by:
- Entering into a step-parent parental responsibility agreement with all parents that hold parental responsibility;
- In the ways outlined above for other family members and friends.
In many blended families step-parents may look after step-children day to day perhaps alongside their biological children of the relationship. They may well consider and treat their step-children no differently from their biological children, but from a legal perspective there are important differences.
Unless a step-parent has acquired parental responsibility they will not have the right to have a say in major decisions such as medical treatment and schooling. Doctors and schools may be unable to share information with a step-parent. This can also lead to significant issues if a step-parent wishes to travel abroad with their step-child without a biological parent being present.
In some families one of the biological parents may not have played an active role in their child’s life for a number of years.
The situation can be complicated and it is important to take specialist advice to understand your own situation.
At Greene and Greene, Melanie Pilmer, solicitor in our family department can provide you with specialist advice when you make your Will with us or at any stage can talk through the various options available to you if this is an area that is causing you concerning. Please contact Melanie on 01284 717418 or [email protected].
Part 1 of 2.