In Western Australia’s modern context of high divorce rates, remarriage and mixed families, the question of what parental responsibilities stepparents have and can take toward a stepchild presents more frequently.
Who is a stepparent?
Following the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (the Act), a ‘stepparent’ is a person who is;
a) Not the parent of the child;
b) is, or was previously, married or in a de facto relationship with a parent of a child; and
c) treats, 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.
What legal responsibilities to the stepchild does a stepparent have initially?
Without any positive action being taken, a stepparent has no legal responsibilities towards the stepchild of a parental nature. An exception lies with emergency medical situations; where neither biological parent is able to provide consent to an operation, a stepparent may be consulted to provide consent.
How can a stepparent become a legal guardian?
For children over 16 years of age, the Guardianship and Administration Act 1990 (WA) provides that stepparents can lodge an application with the Guardianship Tribunal or the Supreme Court of WA for an order bestowing guardianship upon the stepparent.
For children under 16 years of age, adoption or application for a parenting order are the avenues available.
How can a stepparent take on legal parental responsibilities toward a stepchild?
To take on legal parental responsibilities akin to those of a biological parent, the stepparent has two options available to them:
b) Apply for a parenting order
Adoption will bestow full parental responsibilities upon the stepparent equal to that of a biological parent. However the adoption process in Western Australia is long and complex and is best suited to circumstances where the natural parents are deceased or are no longer involved in the child’s life or if it would be found to be in the child’s best interests to be adopted by the stepparent.
A stepparent may also choose to make an application to the Australian Family Court for a parenting order. This order may regulate who the child lives with, how much time the child spends with certain people including parents and immediate relatives, the provision of legal parental responsibility, the child’s communication with their biological parents or others or any other circumstance relating to the care, development or welfare of the child. However, in an application of this kind, the court will only look to the best interests of the child when reaching its decision.
Child Support Agency Australia
Family court of Australia
This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our experienced Family lawyers Perth on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.