Step-parents and their rights

As we know, the concept of a traditional nuclear family is changing rapidly in today’s society, and blended families are becoming more and more common. Blended families are families where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship, and they have formed a new family unit with their new partner and their children.

In such blended families, step-parents often play an important role in the upbringing and well-being of their stepchildren. They provide emotional support, help with daily activities, and may even take on a parental role for their stepchildren. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the increasing prevalence of blended families and the role of step-parents in these families.

It is also important to note that in many cases, step-parents may have a closer relationship with their stepchildren than with their biological parents. In fact, in some instances, the step-parent may have been the primary caregiver for the child for a significant amount of time, which can make it difficult to distinguish between the biological parent and the step-parent in terms of their role in the child’s life.

Given the changing nature of families in society today, it is important for the law to reflect this reality and provide adequate legal protections and recognition for step-parents. While step-parents may not have the same legal rights as biological parents in family law matters in Western Australia, there is increasing recognition of the important role that they play in the lives of their stepchildren.

Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the term “parent” is defined broadly to include biological, adoptive, and step-parents. However, in Western Australia, the Family Court Act 1997 (WA) takes a more restrictive approach. According to this a step-parent is not considered a parent for the purposes of family law matters, unless they have been granted a parenting order by the Family Court.

So, what is a parenting order? A parenting order is a court order that sets out the arrangements for a child’s care, welfare, and development. This can include decisions about where the child will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and who will make major decisions about their upbringing.

If a step-parent wants to be recognised as a parent for the purposes of family law matters in Western Australia, they will need to apply for a parenting order. This can be a complex and time-consuming process, as the Family Court will need to consider a range of factors, including the nature of the step-parent’s relationship with the child, their involvement in the child’s care and upbringing, and the child’s wishes and needs.

It’s worth noting that even if a step-parent is granted a parenting order, they may not have the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent. For example, they may not be required to pay child support, and they may not be entitled to make major decisions about the child’s upbringing.

So, what rights do step-parents have in family law matters in Western Australia? While step-parents may not have the same legal rights as biological parents, they may still be able to play an important role in their stepchild’s life. For example, they may be able to:

  • provide emotional support and guidance to their stepchild;
  • participate in school and extra-curricular activities;
  • attend parent-teacher conferences and school events;
  • help with homework and other tasks;
  • be involved in medical and dental appointments; and
  • attend family gatherings and events.

It is crucial for families, and particularly blended families, to seek legal advice and support when navigating family law matters, to ensure that the best interests of the child are prioritised, and that everyone’s rights and responsibilities are recognised and protected. Contact us if you or someone you knows requires legal advice.