Can a step-parent get parental responsibility?

Over time, a step-parent often develops a strong bond with their step-child and may take on a share of the parenting. We look at whether they also acquire parental responsibility rights.

Parental responsibility is the legal responsibilities and duties involved in caring for and making decisions on behalf of a child. By definition, it is ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property’.

It can include day-to-day parenting decisions on matters such as a child’s schedule, meals and discipline and also more major issues such as medical treatment, education and religion.

Who has parental responsibility?

A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility. A child’s father will have it if he and the child’s mother were married at the time of the birth. If the parents are not married but he is named on the birth certificate and the birth was after 1 December 2003, he will also acquire it automatically.

A step-parent does not have any legal parental responsibility, even if they live with a child for much of the time and take on the role of a parent to that child.

Obtaining shared parental responsibility

A step-parent can obtain parental responsibility which will be shared with the parent or parents who already have these responsibilities. There are a number of different routes to this being legally granted, including the following:

  • If you are married to one of the child’s parents who already has parental responsibility and all those with parental responsibility consent, they can enter into a parental responsibility agreement granting this to you. The formal agreement, signed by all parties, will then need to be registered at court.
  • You can make an application to the court asking for parental responsibility to be officially granted. Either parent can object to this, but the court will make its decision based on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests.
  • If the court makes a Child Arrangements Order instructing that a child live with a step-parent, either on their own or with another parent, parental responsibility is automatically granted.
  • If a step-parent becomes a child’s legal guardian, parental responsibility is automatically granted.
  • If a step-parent becomes a child’s special guardian or adopts the child, the court will also grant parental responsibility.

If you care for a child for whom you do not have parental responsibility and you would like to discuss whether you can apply for this, we would be happy to hear from you.

To speak to one of our expert family law solicitors, speak to a member of our team today, contact us on 0345 2413100 or email us at

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