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Step-parenting can be tough, especially when same-sex relationships break down, so how do you go about ensuring you still have contact with your step-kids?
This complexity could occur because one party was previously in a heterosexual relationship and have children from that relationship, or because the child or children of this relationship were born by surrogacy or donor insemination. In this blog we look at the issues affecting step-parenting after the breakdown of a same-sex relationship.
Stepchildren – can I apply to the court if I need to?
A step-parent, whether in a same sex or heterosexual relationship would need “leave” (permission from the court) to make an application to see their stepchildren following the breakdown of a relationship unless they have lived with the child for the last three years. The main thing is to get advice about this situation early on.
Even if an application for leave has to be made, if a step-parent can show that they have a relationship with the child and that it is in the child’s best interest for that relationship to continue, then the application is likely to be successful.
Can a step-parent acquire parental responsibility?
A step-parent does not automatically acquire parental responsibility for a stepchild, but there can be a step-parent parental responsibility agreement drawn up. This would, however, require the consent of both parents. If the other parent can’t agree, an application to court can be made.
Can step-parent parental responsibility be revoked?
If granted, stepparent parental responsibility can only be revoked by court order, unless the child makes an application themselves or the child has reached the age of 18 years, when the parental responsibility comes to an end anyway.
What if we have a child by surrogacy or sperm donor?
If you are married or have formed a civil partnership, you can both be registered as the child’s legal parents on the birth certificate. This means that you will both have parental responsibility and be able to make decisions for the child as to medical treatment, education and religious upbringing as well as other matters. If you can’t agree what is best for your child, then you can make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order, depending on the issue which has arisen.
If you have not married or formed a civil partnership then an application for leave (as discussed above) may be required.
What are the timescales for applying to the court to see my children?
As with all legal issues, time can be of the essence. In making any application to court, you must have first made a referral to Mediation and attended a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting. This can take some time. Once your application is filed, your first hearing might not take place for up to 6 weeks – which can be a long wait if you have not seen your children for some time already.
The court is also keen to avoid unnecessary disruption for children, and if the child has been used to spending time with you, then the court will want to address the issues as soon as possible so that arrangements can hopefully be made to reinstate this, as long as it is safe to do so and is in the best interests of a child. Early involvement from CAFCASS (Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) can assist with this, and before you attend your first hearing, CAFCASS will have spoken to both parents to try to establish the issues and make recommendations to resolve them. It might also be recommended that you attend a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) which you attend separately from the other parent, to consider the impact of the relationship breakdown on your children.
Usually, Child Arrangements Applications are resolved within 6 months, depending on other reports required and the issues involved, but the court does like to manage these cases and resolve issues in the best interests of the children as soon as possible.
Some cases do involve more complex issues, such as children or adults with additional needs, or perhaps issues of domestic abuse, but these are all issues which can be addressed, although it may extend the timescales.
The most important thing is to get advice as soon as possible – even if you do not make a court application straight away. Knowing your position can offer reassurance and help you to have a plan in mind for the future.
If you would like to speak to one of our expert solicitors regarding a step-parent issue you are facing, contact our team today on 0114 249 59 69.