Rights and obligations of step parents – and ex step parents
Step parents and step children are common in the social fabric of modern Australia. When a step parent and the biological parent separate, this can raise some issues about what rights and obligations step parents have in raising, providing for, and spending time with, their ex-step children.
Under the law, you are not automatically a ‘step parent’ if you were married to the child’s biological parent. Whether you are a step parent, depends on what type of relationship you have had with your step child, and the step child’s biological parent.
Under the Family Law Act, you are only a step parent if:
(a) You are not the parent of the child;
(b) You are, or were previously, married or in a de facto relationship with a parent of the child; and
(c) You treat, or at any time while married, or the de facto partner of the parent, the child as a member of the family formed with the parent.
There is no presumption that you have a financial obligation to a step child. You can agree to provide for a step child, if you wish. However, unless a parenting order is made by a Court that determines that you are obliged to financially support a step child, you are not legally obligated to provide for a step child.
In relation to making or opposing any application, the length of your relationship with the child’s biological parent, as well as the nature of your relationship with the child, will determine whether you have an obligation to financially support the child, following separation from the child’s parent.
You do not have any automatic rights to spending time with a step child, after separating from the child’s biological parent. However, the parties can make an agreement to do so, if both agree.
If you want to have rights to custody, care and decision-making in the child’s life after separation, and an agreement cannot be reached, then you will need to make an application to the Family Court for parenting orders. If the child is over 16 years of age, in certain situations, you can make an application for guardianship under the Guardianship and Administration Act 1990.