Stepparents are able to apply to the Family Law Courts for a Parenting Order as ‘other people significant to the care, welfare and development of a child’.
Parenting Orders can deal with a wide range of issues, from major and long term issues to day-to-day issues, such as the following:
- Who the child lives with;
- How much time the child spends and/or communicates with each parent and other significant people, such as grandparents and stepparents;
- Allocation of parental responsibility;
- Change of name – i.e. to surname of stepparent;
- Special occasions;
- Any other aspect of the care, welfare and development of the child.
These orders would usually be made with the agreement of the biological parents of the child. Such orders from the Family Court must take account of the wishes of the child and the court may require the parties to attend counselling and consider a report in order to ensure that the arrangements are in the best interests of the child.
In the event that an Order was made giving a stepparent parental responsibility, this would effectively give them all the responsibilities of the biological parents. Alternatively, specific issues can be dealt with by including particular Orders, such as the following:
- The stepparent is at liberty to obtain all school notices, reports, photograph order forms and any other correspondence ordinarily provided to parents;
- The stepparent is at liberty to attend all school events that a parent is ordinarily invited to attend;
- The stepparents and parents keep each other informed with respect to any illness, significant injury or medical treatment obtained for the child;
- The stepparent is authorised to obtain all information available in relation to the child’s education/schooling and health/medical issues, including listing the child on their Medicare Card;
- The stepparent is authorised to attend changeover on behalf of the biological parent;
- Special occasions, such as stepparent’s or siblings birthdays;
- Change of name (if both parents consent to the child’s surname being changed to that of the stepparent, an application can be made to Births Deaths Marriages in your State).
The above Orders can be made by agreement between the parents or by Order of the Court. The paramount consideration of the Court is always what is in the best interests of the child.
It is also possible for an Order to be made enabling a stepparent to spend time and communicate with a child following separation from that child’s biological parent.