It is not entirely uncommon for marriage-like relationships to shift over the course of their lifespan. Many spouses who have had children during their marriage or common-law relationship are unfortunately faced with an eventual breakdown of their marriage, which leads to separation or divorce.
Despite this, one or both of these former spouses may eventually remarry or enter into a common-law relationship and for those who have their children accompanying them, this often raises the question of the rights and responsibilities of a step-parent entering into this role.
When a parent remarries or enters into a common-law relationship with a new spouse where children are involved, the step-parent will typically assume certain rights and responsibilities. It’s important to note that while the rights of step-parents are not identical to the rights of biological parents, Canadian law does in fact recognize the rights and responsibilities of step-parents and these can affect child custody and child support matters.
What are the rights of a step-parent after divorce or separation in Canada?
- A step-parent usually has the right to apply for access and custody to the children involved
- A step-parent usually has the right to bring forward claims for child support
It’s important to note that these above-mentioned rights are only the rights to apply for custody, access, or child support payments. Step-parents do not receive custody, access, or child support by default. Ultimately the courts will have the final say, which will be based on what is in the best interests of the children involved.
What are the responsibilities of a step-parent after divorce or separation in Canada?
- A step-parent may be responsible for child support payments should the marriage or common-law relationship break down and a separation or divorce occurs
A step-parent may have to pay for child support if the step-parent and the child’s parent are or were married, or lived together for at least two years and you also lived with the child. It is important to remember, however, that a step-parent’s responsibility to pay child support comes after the children’s parents’ or guardians’ responsibility.
So can a step-parent get custody of a child?
The short answer is yes.
It’s important to keep in mind that while the short answer may be ‘yes’, the matter of a step-parent being granted custody of a child can be a very complex and rigorous process.
The reality is that families can change over time with new members introduced that can have the same or even a more impactful parenting role than the biological parent(s) initially involved.
Children and step-parents alike can form strong bonds that are foundational to a child’s development and well being. The courts recognize this, which is why biological parents should be aware that it is not a given that they will obtain custody of their children in preference to the children’s step-parents.
Despite that, however—and perhaps more importantly—the primary focus when awarding custody will be primarily based on what is in the best interests of the children. It’s not about what’s convenient for the biological parent or step-parent, but what is best for the children involved.
For a step-parent applying for child custody or guardianship, the courts will typically look at the following when coming to a decision:
- The child’s health and emotional well-being (not just now but also in the future)
- What the child thinks or wants (if applicable)
- The love and affection between the child and other important people in their life
- The child’s need for stability
- Who looked after the child in the past and how well they looked after the child
- And other important considerations
At the end of the day, while a step-parent usually has the right to apply for custody of a child, the courts will primarily look at what is ultimately best for the child and the step-parent’s ability to provide and care for the child. This will be based on an array of criteria.
Are you interested in learning more about the rights and responsibilities of a step-parent as it applies to child custody?
The process for seeking child custody as a step-parent can be incredibly complex. There is different court paperwork involved for step-parents than biological parents. Only those practicing family law have the specialized expertise to navigate the nuisances of this process. Reach out to our team of expert family lawyers for support. Dreyer Davison has been serving the Fraser Valley for over 20 years and has the expertise and experience to help you in these matters.