So-called ‘blended’ families are common these days, with many couples bringing children from prior relationships to a new one. However, what happens when a blended family breaks down? Does the step-parent have visitation rights with their step-child?
You may be surprised to learn that the answer may be yes. Just because an adult relationship has broken down does not mean that step-children automatically miss out on spending time with the step-parent who, in many cases, has been a parental figure for much of their life.
In fact, the Family Law Act (Cth) provides that persons considered significant to a child’s care, development and welfare can apply for parenting orders (including ‘spend time with’ orders). This definition includes step-parents, among other important figures in a child’s life such as grandparents, and other non-relatives.
What can step-parents do to preserve the relationship with their step-child? Firstly, it’s important to attempt to reach agreement with the biological parent(s) of the child regarding the potential visitation a step-parent will have. Just like parents, step-parents are able to utilise Family Relationship Centres and Alternative Dispute Resolution Centres to access help in negotiating with biological parents regarding establishing regular visitation with their step-child.
If a step-parent is, for whatever reason, unable to reach agreement with the biological parents, a Section 601 Certificate can be applied for and issued, and the step-parent may then make application to either the Federal Magistrates Court or Family Court to have orders made to enable them to see the stepchild. The Courts are likely to grant such order providing the court believes it is in the best interests of the child to do so.
Factors which may be relevant are:
-whether the child thinks of you as ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’
-how long you have been in the child’s life;
– whether your step-child is related to your own children, ie their half-siblings, and whether there is any proposal to separate the siblings;
– a variety of other factors.
Note however that some of the very important presumptions in the Family Law Act do not apply to step-parents. For example, where one of the underlying objects of the Act is that a child has a right to the benefit of a meaningful involvement with each parent, that right does not extend to step-parents.
Are you a step-parent facing a relationship breakdown and need further advice or help with arranging visitation with your step-child or children? If so, please contact the team here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400. We will provide targeted and specific advice on what parts of the Family Law Act apply to you and are relevant to your particular circumstances.