Moving in with a new partner when children are involved: your legal rights
The number of blended families - where at least one parent has children from a previous relationship - is increasing greatly in the UK. It's helpful to understand your legal position when you are moving in with somebody and looking after their children, in addition to any of your own or shared children.
Most step-parents in these situations assume the parental role for all children in the family. However, they only have the legal right to make decisions regarding their own biological children. This can put parents in a very difficult position and potentially leave children in the home at risk, and vulnerable.
When moving in with a new partner, the concern parents have about bringing separated families together and co-parenting children usually revolve around making sure rules are fair and consistent, that children have special time with all their parents and that they form good relationships together.
The legal situation often falls down the list of priorities with so much else going on. However, in order that children and parents remain safe, it's important all those seeking to exercise responsibility and make decisions about the children have legal 'parental responsibility'. This can be acquired in a number of ways and usually without difficulty.
Securing the proper rights to look after all the children in your care is critical. Equally important is the need to make proper provision to protect those children in the event that anything should happen to either parent. This means both protecting assets brought to the new relationship so they pass in the way intended by the parents, whether this is to their own children or shared.
Active planning to ensure children remain protected in the event of disaster feels like a difficult and time-consuming step to take. However, it needn't be so. Simply writing a will and securing a step-parental responsibility agreement will ensure that in a worst-case scenario, all children can be properly looked after and protected from further unnecessary trauma.
What Mumsnetters say
- "DH and I are applying for a residence order for his son who has come to live with us and wants to stay (and we want him to stay too!) We are making a joint application so that I would also have parental responsibility. This is because DH is often abroad for work and it means practical stuff for DS can be dealt with by me if necessary, eg signing school/medical forms, without me having to find the mother and get her to do it."
- "We were thinking the other day and realised that if anything ever happened to me, my partner would have no legal rights whatsoever over our boy, so we're looking at adoption."
- "There is no legal difference between step-parent adoption and formal adoption. I had lots of heartache when deciding to go down the step-parent adoption route. I had to be prepared it would open a can of worms. It must cause the biological father to think long and hard about the past and the future."
- "If your children's fathers are on their birth certificates then you both have parental responsibility [PR]. It is very hard to get this revoked by a court, and I suggest that once you are married (you can't do it until then), you simply enter into a PR agreement with your new husband, so that he also has it, in addition to yourself and the children's fathers."
- "You can apply to the courts for PR, or a residency order that confers PR, as the spouse/civil partner of one of the parents with PR. As I understand it, having it granted depends on individual circumstances and in the case of an older child, their wishes. I am of the opinion that with the commitment of parental relationships less clearly defined and less durable than they used to be, it would be to the benefit of children in terms of knowing who would be responsible for them in a parental role, no matter what shit hit the fan. Furthermore, knowing who has right of parental access/authority over them, avoiding unnecessary hot spots of tension between parents post spilt, and clear and well defined boundries when it comes to the various adults in their lives."
This content was created in association with Co-operative Legal Services. More info can be found in their guide on co-parenting here.
Last updated: about 3 years ago