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By Stefanie Costi, Lawyer at Watts McCray.
We often get asked a lot of questions about what step-parents can and can’t do in Australia, like who’s responsible for what and how child support works. Therefore, in this article, we’ll explain what rights step-parents have in Australia in the event of a family breakdown.
According to Section 4 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the Australian legal definition of a step-parent is someone who:
Parental responsibility means making important decisions that are best for your child, from everyday matters like food and clothing to long-term concerns like education and health.
In Australia, when biological parents split up, they usually share parental responsibility equally unless it’s not in the best interest of the child. Step-parents do not automatically have parental responsibility. Even if one biological parent passes away, the surviving biological parent still has parental responsibility.
While step-parents often act like parents and undertake many parenting duties, they can’t sign school forms, apply for passports, obtain birth certificates, or approve medical care without legal parental responsibility. In emergency medical situations when the biological parents are unavailable, step-parents might be able to provide consent.
After a separation or divorce, step-parents often want legal parental responsibility and custody rights for their non-biological children.
As a step-parent, you can obtain these in three ways:
Remember, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s main concern is what is in the best interests of your step-child. If your partner passes away and the surviving biological parent can provide good care, the Court will try to maintain a strong relationship between the child and the biological parent.
If the other biological parent has passed away, your partner can name you as your step-child’s guardian in their Will. If there is a disagreement about guardianship, the Court will decide.
Usually, step-parents don’t have to pay child support in Australia. However, there are exceptions when the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia might order it.
Understanding what rights step-parents have in Australia plus your responsibilities as a step-parent is key to creating a loving and supportive family environment.
Keep in mind that every family is unique, and legal matters can be tricky. Don’t hesitate to seek legal advice if you need help.
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