The Rights of Step-Parents

Step-parents can be important people in a child’s life and children often form strong bonds with step-parents. 

A step-parent is someone who:

  1. Is not a biological parent of a child;
  2. Is or was married to or a de facto partner of one of the child’s biological parents;
  3. Treats the child as a member of the family they formed with the biological parent or did so while they were together.

Step-parents do not have an automatic right to parental responsibility.  Whereas parents have equal shared parental responsibility under the Family Law Act unless there are Orders granting one parent sole parental responsibility.  Parental responsibility relates to major long-term decision-making for a child.  In a medical emergency, a step-parent may be asked to give consent for a procedure if neither of the child’s biological parents is available. 

Step-parents can gain parental responsibility if an Order grants them parental responsibility.  However, it is only in very limited circumstances that step-parents are granted parenting orders.

If a step-parent wants to spend time with a child, they should first try to reach an agreement with both parents.  If they are unable to reach an agreement with the parents, they can file an application with the Court seeking to spend time with the child on the basis they are a person who is significant to the care, welfare, and development of a child.

The Child Support Agency cannot make a step-parent pay child support for a step-child.  It is the duty of the child’s biological parents to support the child.  However, the Court can order step-parents to pay child support for a step-child.  When a Court decides whether a step-parent should pay child support they consider:

  1. Whether the biological parents provide the step-child a proper level of financial support
  2. The length of the relationship between the step-parent and biological parent and what kind of relationship it was.
  3. The kind of relationship the step-parent had or has with the step-child.
  4. How the step-child was financially supported during the relationship between the step-parent and biological parent.

If you are considering seeking arrangements to spend time with your step-child, speak to our family lawyers today on (07) 4052 0700. 

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