Why it’s high time that the UK Legal system recognised the significant role played by step-parents in a child’s upbringing.

A few years ago, I took out a huge life insurance policy for myself. I did this to ensure that if I die, my children will remain together in the home they have been brought up in with their step-father. The money is there to take the matter to court, if necessary. I have been married three times. I had a son with my first husband and a daughter with my second. I have no children with my third husband, but I have been with him since my children were young and they have always lived with me. There has been no shared parenting.

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When my husband and I got together, he had never married or had children of his own. My children came first in my decision making and they were made aware that if they didn’t like him for any reason whatsoever, then he would have to go. Fortunately, when they met him they both liked him. He was never introduced as a father replacement. He was only ever seen as my friend. We took things very slowly and when he did move in, the children were used to him. I believe that step-parents play an important role in a child’s life. My husband has now known my daughter since she was three, she is now nearly 12, and so in her memories, he has always been there. A step-parent is not there to replace a parent, but they can enhance a child’s life, in much the same way that a special aunt or uncle or grandparent can. My children chose to call my husband Jonny as it was their special name for him. I know there are many families in which conflict arises with step-parents but we have been lucky. I think most of that is down to communication and mutual respect.

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My children know their fathers well and see them regularly. They never needed a substitute father. I was always clear about that. According to the website, www.happysteps.co.uk , stepfamilies are now the fastest growing family type in the  UK. It’s estimated that one in three of all families are stepfamilies.  But despite their role within a family, and the fact that a parent and step-parent may be married, a step-parent does not automatically have legal Parental Responsibility.  For this to happen, a formal agreement must be drawn up with each person who already has Parental Responsibility.  This is often the natural parents and any other individuals who have acquired Parental Responsibility since the birth of the child. This is heavily reliant on the parents with Parental Responsibility being able to get on well and to agree on a formal agreement for the step-parent. So, it is highly unlikely to happen.

If I were to die, then legally my children should become the responsibilities of their biological fathers as I was married to them when my children were born. As they both have different fathers, then I assume this would mean that they would be separated and raised in different homes with their fathers as primary carers. My husband who has been their main male carer, would have no legal rights to continue to care for them. This would also mean that there would be no more ties to my family and my children would not necessarily be entitled to see their maternal grandfather, who has equally played an important role in their upbringing.

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If I go to court with my ex-husband to discuss who has custody or how often my daughter must see her father, then my husband has no legal say in discussing anything about the welfare of my daughter and yet he cares for her daily, takes her to school and spends a great deal of time with her. More time than her own father. Similarly, in the unlikely event that we ever separated, he would have no legal rights to continue to see the children. This does not appear to put the welfare of the children first. Imagine if you were a child and had seen someone every day for ten years. Then suddenly, you never saw them again. It just doesn’t seem right does it? Furthermore, if one of my children had an accident and required emergency treatment, then my husband has no right to give consent for their treatment. That is the case, even if I was not available at the time.

I think it is about time that the UK legal system recognised the vital role that many step-parents play in the upbringing of children. I am hopeful that with the continually evolving idea of what constitutes a ‘typical’ family, we might start to see landmark cases, which will recognise their significance and make rulings to change the current situation. Family law firms and the family courts are also becoming more mindful of this anomaly. Ultimately, only time will tell.

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One thought on “Why it’s high time that the UK Legal system recognised the significant role played by step-parents in a child’s upbringing.

  1. My fourteen year old grandson has three families, his fathers family, his stepfathers family and his mothers family. Although he does not deserve it, he spends one day a week with his father and a week during the summer holiday. His stepfather is his best friend they cycle together, they have known each other for the last twelve years. His mum is the love of his life. In a lot of ways he is very lucky, if something should happen to my daughter, I would not like to think of his father having control of his affairs as the child has money of his own, he has saved any birthday/Christmas present money and banked it. Your article has rung alarm bells, I will have to have a conversation with my daughter. I should add he is so important to my husband and I would dread not having access to him.

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