The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” rings as true today as it did in the past. And, given that modern families come in many forms, stepparents are becoming common. However, while relationships between step parents and step children can be strong, custody laws do not specifically apply to stepparents. New South Lawyers' Family Lawyers explain why.

What is a stepparent?

Accordingly, Section 4 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) states that a stepparent is a person who:

Firstly, is not a parent of the child. Secondly, is, or was, married to or de facto partner (within section 60EA meaning) of a parent of the child. And finally, treats the child as a member of the family formed with the parent. (Or, at any time while married to, or a de facto partner of the parent treated).

What are my legal rights as a stepparent?

Although stepparents perform parenting roles, no legal relationship exists between the step parent and step child. And as such they don't have any legal right to share parent responsibilities or custody rights of the child.

For example, stepparents cannot legally authorise medical care or apply for a passport for their step children. Unless in an emergency situation.

Can I get custody as a stepparent?

If a stepparent and a child’s biological parent have separated, the stepparent isn't automatically entitled to time with a stepchild. Nor do they have the same entitlement to begin Court proceedings in the same way that biological parents do.

Ultimately, however there is nothing stopping a stepparent from reaching an informal ‘parenting arrangement’ with the biological parents. In this situation, stepparents must obtain leave of the Court for many proceedings. These include to begin or join proceedings or to seek Orders for time with their step children.

Section 65C of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) allows stepparents to commence legal proceedings. Namely, if they are concerned about the care, welfare or development of a child. But, as there is no ‘test’ for this section, factors for these matters will vary. Nonetheless, Courts will generally look at the relationship between the step parent and step child.

What about child support?

Typically, it is the duty of the biological parents to financially support any children. However, in certain circumstances the Court can make an order requiring a stepparent to pay child support. In making these orders, Courts look at:

Firstly, the financial support from the biological parents. Secondly, the length and type of relationship shared between the stepparent and the biological parents. Thirdly, the relationship between the step parent and the step child.

Child support for stepparents is rare however, and orders requiring future financial assistance from a stepparent are not common.

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information and not relied upon as legal advice. Seek formal legal advice in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication.

To find out more, chat with a member of New South Lawyers' Family Law Team today.