Julia Cluley, family partner at Valemus Law, looks closely at the rights and responsibilities someone has if they have been left to bring up their partner’s child after the relationship has ended.
What if you’ve been left to bring up your partner’s child after the relationship has ended, what rights do you have?
The first thing to understand is that the rights and responsibilities that come with bringing up a child arise out of a concept called parental responsibility. It is parental responsibility which legally entitles and requires a parent to make all necessary decisions about the child’s upbringing, from day-to-day matters to the more important decisions such as deciding which school they should go to, whether they should have medical treatment, what religion the child should follow and so on.
How do I get parental responsibility for a child that’s not mine?
At birth, the child’s mother will automatically have parental responsibility for their child and so will the father if he is either married to the mother or he is named as the child’s father on the birth certificate.
However, if the child isn’t biologically yours – and in the absence of formal written consent by all surviving parents with parental responsibility – then you will need to apply to the court requesting parental responsibility and an order that the child lives with you. Once a “lives with” order is made, you will have parental responsibility for the child for as long as the “lives with” order lasts.
Do I really need parental responsibility for a child that’s not mine?
The short answer is yes because you are likely to encounter difficulties, especially making formal decisions for the child, for example authorising medical treatment, without the same or in more mundane matters such as signing forms for a school trip.
If the child has been living with you for more than three years, then you are automatically entitled to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. However, if the child has been living with you for less than three years, you will also have to apply to the court for permission to make the application. This application is made at the same time.
There will be steps that you need to take before issuing your application. Firstly, you should contact the child’s parents to see if they are willing to agree that a “lives with” order should be made in your favour because if they agree, the court process will be more straightforward. If they don’t agree or they don’t respond when you contact them, you will need to contact a mediation service provider to see if you can agree to this with the help of a mediator.
However, if you can’t reach an agreement with the biological parents or they won’t discuss it with you, then you will have to apply to the Court and ask them to make an order that the child should live with you. Once you have that, you can make decisions for the child as if they were your own biological child.