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A Guide to Custodial Rights in Australia for Step-Parents

The family structure comes in different forms, and having step-parents is a common scenario in the modern family system. However, in the unfortunate event of a divorce, what are the Custody Rights for Step-Parents? Although the relationship between a step-parent and children can be strong, does the law recognise this and make custody provisions for step-parents in the event of a divorce or separation?

Step-Parents Rights

If you are in this position, find out what you can do with the help of a reputable Family Lawyer in Sydney. Unfortunately, in Australia, the laws for determining custody rights differ for biological parents and step-parents. Here’s what you need to know:

Defining the Step-Parent

To assess the Custody Rights of Step-Parents, find out what the definition of this term is under the law. According to Section 4 of the Family Law Act 1975, you are considered a step-parent if you:
Are not the parent of the child.
Have been married to the biological parent or been a de facto partner of the biological parent.
Treated the child as a family member, within the bounds of the marriage or de facto partnership.

Notably, this also applies to same-sex relationships in a de facto setup.

Step-Parent Duties Versus Legal Responsibilities

After consulting a Divorce Lawyer, you can find out what your responsibilities are as the step-parent. Typically, parental responsibilities speak of all the duties and powers that any parent has regarding their children’s affairs.

Though you may perform these duties as a step-parent, you do not have the same right to share custody rights or parental responsibilities in Australia. Why? Because the law says you have no legal relationship as a step-parent and step-child.

For example, you are not legally authorised to sign medical documents, school forms, or other legal papers like applying for a passport. The only exception is during an emergency when neither of the biological parents are present. In this instance, you can give consent for the life-saving procedure.

Payment of Support for Step-Child

It is considered the primary responsibility of the biological parents to care for and support the child financially. In some instances, the court may order a step-parent to provide child support. The court takes a look at the following:
● Level of monetary support from the biological parents.
● Length and type of relationship between the couple during the relationship, and how the child was supported at that time.
● Kind of relationship between the step-parent and child.

Getting Custody Rights as a Step-Parent

If you, as a step-parent, want custody or visitation rights to your step-child, seek the help of your Divorce Lawyer to draft an agreement with both biological parents. However, if you cannot settle on one, you can apply for parenting orders. The latter deals with various cases of custody rights in Australia. It can pertain to:
● Living arrangements
● Time spent with the child
● Maintenance of child
● Allocation of some parental responsibilities

As the step-parent, you can seek the help of a family lawyer in Sydney to represent you in the Family Law Courts to secure a parenting order. This order will be drafted by the courts based on the best interests of the child. In general, the court’s position on shared parental responsibility is usually limited to the biological parents.

However, a step-parent can be granted the same shared responsibility under exceptional circumstances. For example, if the biological parents are not present (like one is in prison) or there are issues with the child welfare (ex. drug use of parent), the court may grant the step-parent’s request.

Seek Legal Counsel from a Reputable Firm

It can be complicated to figure out your custody rights in Australia as a step-parent undergoing divorce. If you strongly believe you have the right to shared custody, contact Platinum Lawyers Australia at (02) 8084 2764. Our team specialises in divorce, separation, and family law.

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