Separating from your de facto partner, or going through a divorce is a difficult and turbulent time in your life. And if you have young kids or a blended family, you might be wondering what this means for your children and stepchildren and your child’s legal rights.
Biological and adopted children have the same legal rights, but these are different from the legal rights of stepchildren. Read more about the legal rights of children in separation and divorce, and how it could affect your family.
What legal rights apply to biological, adopted and stepchildren?
Parents have the right to make decisions about major issues affecting a dependent child’s life, such as education, healthcare and religion. In cases of separation and divorce involving only biological or adopted children, both parents have equal parental responsibility, unless a court order states otherwise.
In cases involving stepchildren, step-parents do not automatically have parental responsibility for their stepchildren. However, this can change if a court makes orders for the parenting arrangements for children which include provision for the step-parent to have parental responsibility.
Both biological and adoptive parents are legally obligated to provide financial support to their dependent children. This includes expenses related to necessities, such as the child’s housing, food, clothing, education and medical care. Child support payments are usually based on the income of the parents and the needs of the child.
Step-parents are not legally obligated to provide financial support to their stepchildren unless they have adopted the child or a court orders them to pay child support.
In most cases, parents can discuss and come to an agreement when making arrangements about which parent their child will live with or spend time with. If the court is making a decision about a child, the court will make an order that is based on the best interests of the child. It considers factors such as the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s wishes (if they’re old enough to express these), and the ability of the parents to provide a safe and stable environment.
For biological and adoptive parents, the child has the right to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents and the court aims to ensure the child’s welfare is protected and that they have a meaningful relationship with both parents to the extent possible.
Where a case involves stepchildren, step-parents generally do not have automatic rights to live or spend time with their stepchildren. However, they may be able to apply for court orders granting them such time if they believe it’s in the best interests of the child and the court deems it appropriate.
Biological and adopted children have automatic inheritance rights from their parents. In the event of a parent’s death, the child is entitled to a share of their estate, unless stated otherwise in a valid will and/or in the case of disentitling conduct by the child.
Stepchildren do not have automatic inheritance rights from their step-parents. However, step-parents can include them in their wills to ensure they receive an inheritance, or they can adopt them to grant them the same inheritance rights as biological or adopted children. There also may be the right to make a family provision claim in any particular case.
How does separation and divorce affect the legal rights of children?
Separation and divorce can have a significant impact on family life, especially when dependent children are involved. Whatever the circumstances are that have led to the decision to separate from your partner or spouse, it is important to focus on an outcome that is in the best interests of the children, regardless of whether they are biological, adopted or stepchildren.
It’s important to note that, if the family includes stepchildren, the court will make decisions based on the case each party presents (but are not bound by the case each presents).
The court may take into account factors such as the length of the relationship between the stepchild and the parent or step-parent, the financial and emotional support provided, and the nature and extent of the relationship between step-parent and stepchild.
Separation and divorce proceedings are complex and often emotional. It is essential to consult with a lawyer to understand the specific circumstances and legal rights of your children and stepchildren.
Seton Family Lawyers can help you through your separation or divorce and understand your child’s legal rights.
We understand how stressful it can be to navigate a marriage or de facto relationship breakdown. Our experienced team is here to provide you with the information, guidance and support to understand the legal rights of your biological, adopted or stepchildren during your divorce, contact Seton Family Lawyers today.