Statistically, one fifth of separated families these days eventually transform to include a full time step-parent following the re-partnering of one or other of the biological parents.
For some of these families, non-participation of the other biological parent may lead to the step-parent becoming the only “other” parent figure in the children’s life. Not surprisingly in these situations the family might seek to normalise the relationship by permitting the step-parent to legally assume all of the rights and responsibilities for the children as if he or she were their biological parent. Whilst this yearning might be seamless and natural, the legal processes by which it can be achieved feature some complexity. Effectively, the choices available to the couple fall into four broad categories as follows:
- Parenting Orders,
- Change of surname; and
- Inheritance rights.
The decision on which choice to make is best guided by considering both the process and effect of each option.
Adoption: The effect of a formal adoption can be summarised as follows:
- The step-parent may now be replaced on the child’s birth certificate in place of the exited biological parent and the child’s name may, if desired, be changed to the step- parent’s name by a relatively simple administrative process.
- Decisions for the children’s long term and short term welfare such as schooling, medical procedures, discipline etc, will now be held exclusively by the remaining biological and new adoptive parent jointly, and the exited biological parent will no longer have any say.
- Any previous Family Court Consent Order or Parenting Plan signed between the remaining biological parent and the exited biological parent are terminated and no longer of any force or effect.
- The exited biological parent’s liability for payment of any future child-support and/or repayment of accumulated past areas in child-support are automatically discharged.
- The step-parent is now fully legally capable of being named and holding a position of nominated guardian for the child in the event of the untimely death of the remaining biological parent and the exited biological parent will no longer have any automatic right to seek for the children to come into his/her care.
It is important however, to note that even a formal adoption of a child by a step-parent does not absolutely and forever eliminate all and any rights that the exited biological parent might have. This is because the Family Law Act still recognises that any adult who has an interest in the care of a child has the right to come to the Family Court and seek Orders to permit that adult to participate in the child’s life. Under this broad sweeping provision therefore, it is conceivable that even a biological parent who has been exited out of parental responsibility via an Adoption Order would still have the standing to at least go to the Family Court and seek Orders albeit from a position of relative weakness.
Parts two and three of this series will discuss the process by which an Adoption Order can be obtained and the effect and processes involved in the other options identified above.
Michael Zande is a Queensland Law Society accredited family law specialist with over 20 years experience in the field. He is the principal at Zande Law Solicitors, Suite 7, Norwinn Centre, 15 Discovery Drive, North Lakes to contact Michael for advice phone 3385 0999.
The information in this article is merely a guide and is not a full explanation of the law. This firm cannot take responsibility for any action readers take based on this information. When making decisions that could affect your legal rights, please contact us for professional advice.