Step-Parents’ Rights And Responsibilities

Step-Parents’ Rights And Responsibilities - Resolve Conflict Family LawyersStep-Parent Defined

A step parent is defined in section 4(1) of the Family Law Act 1975 as a person who:

  • is not a parent of the child;
  • is or has been married to or a de facto partner of a parent of the child; and
  • treats, or at any time while married to, or a de facto partner of, the parent treated, the child as a member of the family formed with the parent.

Legal Responsibilities Of A Step-Parent

Legal parental responsibility is the authority to make decisions concerning and affecting the care, welfare and proper development of a child.

Step-parents don’t automatically have legal parental responsibility. This means a step-parent cannot legally authorise medical care, apply for passports, sign school forms and so on.

For a step-parent to gain parental responsibility of a child they either need a parenting order or to adopt.

Note, it is advised to seek independent legal advice regarding parental responsibility as a step-parent as legislation can vary between each state and territory in Australia


Related Article: A Guide To Parental Responsibility


Parenting Orders

Parenting orders are one way stepparents can obtain parental responsibility for their stepchildren and have the same authority and responsibilities as a biological parent.

Understanding Parenting Orders:

  • They can be changed.
  • When the child turns 18 the Parenting Order expires. At the age of 18, a child may, apply to be adopted without the need for any other consent.
  • Allows for the step-parent to have equal shared parental responsibly for the child, which means they will legally able to be involved in making long term decisions concerning the child’s health, education and religion.
  • Does not automatically mean that the child will inherit from the step-parent and does not affect rights of inheritance from their birth parent. For this reason it is important to name the child in the step-parent’s will.
  • Doesn’t change the birth parent’s extended family’s legal relationship with the child.
  • Preserves the child’s legal ties to both birth parents and their families while acknowledging the child’s new situation.


Step-Parent Adoption

Only a court can grant an adoption. Courts usually grant adoption only when parenting orders aren’t enough to protect a child’s welfare.

If a step-parent adopts their partner’s child, they are given the same parental responsibility (as in all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to children) as the child’s natural parents.

In order to adopt a step-child, the step-parent must be either married to the child’s natural parent, or must have been in a de facto relationship with the natural parent for two or more years.

Understanding Step-Parent Adoption:

  • It is permanent.
  • Does not expire when a child turns 18.
  • Means that the birth parent ceases to be the child’s legal parent and the adoptive parent becomes the child’s legal parent.
  • Severs the legal relationship between the birth parent’s extended family and the child, and grants rights to the step-parent’s extended family. This means that the child will not inherit from their birth parent unless they are specifically named in their will.


Note: This is general information advice 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 us on 03 9620 0088 or email


Back To All Posts