Meet the Step-Parents
The role of a step-parent can be a tough one. Whether it is achieving the acceptance of their step-children or at times bearing the brunt of the conflict between their spouse and his or her former partner, it is definitely not a role that is straight forward. Building trust and deciding what role they will play in each other’s lives are often common problems when establishing a relationship between step-parent and step-child.
In an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 March 2013 (http://m.smh.com.au/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/raising-children-who-arent-your-own-20130308-2fq7u.html) it is suggested that in present times a step parent is any person who lives with and has contact with the other person’s children from a previous relationship. The article indicates that for the earlier generations, a step-mother was more commonly known as “the new wife of a widowed man in the context of his children”.
The Family Law Act defines a step-parent as a person who is not a child’s biological parent and who is or has been married to, or in a de facto relationship with, one of the child’s parents, and who treats the child as a member of the family of the parent and step-parent.
There is little doubt that while in most cases a “step” parent is not seeking out to replace a child’s biological mother or father, the “step” parent plays a significant role in the daily routines of their step-children and the question is often posed “what is the legal role of the step-parent?”
However, in the context of family law, a step-parent only has a duty to maintain a child if the Court makes such an Order, and it must be determined that it is proper in the circumstances for the step-parent to have such a duty. Where the Court does make an Order for a step-parent to have the duty of maintaining a child, this duty is secondary and is subject to the primary duty of the child’s biological parents. The relationship is not to take anything away from the primary duty of the biological parents to maintain that child.
No matter how your family decides to classify the role of respective new partners in the children’s lives, in the eyes of the law the best interests of the child is always the primary consideration.
If you have questions about the role of step-parents or carers in your children’s lives or your role in your partner’s children’s lives please contact our experienced Family Lawyers on (02) 9635 6422.