While some marriages break down without the involvement of a third party, in many cases there may already be a new partner on the scene – particularly if a married couple have lived apart for some time before deciding to go through the legal process of divorce.
As a step-parent to your partner’s child or children, it’s easy to feel sidelined during divorce, but if you are keen to take your new parental duties seriously, then it can be beneficial to put the children’s interests first, both as a distraction from the stress, but also for important practical reasons.
For instance, although you may be acting as a primary caregiver to the children, you typically will not automatically receive legal parental responsibility for them – and this is a major issue for the future.
Without parental responsibility, you may not be permitted to make decisions about emergency medical treatment for the child, which potentially puts them at greater risk if they are left in your sole custody at any time.
Applying for parental responsibility is relatively easy, but both of the child’s natural parents will be expected to sign the papers, which can be extremely difficult during an acrimonious divorce where the ex-partner is a love rival.
Mediation offers the perfect opportunity to broach this subject, so that the issue of parental responsibility is resolved along with the divorce itself, or even before the divorce is finalised.
Remember, without the ability to approve emergency medical treatment, the children could be at greater risk – and mediation is a chance to explain this to the ex-partner and make sure they understand the logic in signing to approve legal parental responsibility for you.
The right for step-parents to be granted parental responsibility through a court order or formal agreement was introduced in December 2005 and includes same-sex civil partnerships.
For approval to be granted, usually both natural parents must sign, along with anyone else who has parental responsibility, such as a grandparent who has been granted rights under a previous court order.