Family lawyers are always pleased to see clients when they are entering into a new relationship. Meeting with these clients gives us the opportunity to discuss possible outcomes which can arise when they are involved in a new relationship. One factor that can complicate a new romantic relationship is the relationship that the client has, or is developing, with the children of their significant other. Most adults find it difficult, if not impossible, to refrain from entering into a relationship with their partner’s children. As a result, they often find themselves standing in the place of a parent with those children.
While most of us realize what it means to be a step-parent, people do not necessarily understand what it means, from a legal point of view, to stand in the place of a parent. Being a good step-parent means going to school concerts, hockey games and gymnastics competitions. It means making supper, transporting children for play dates, and teaching them how to fish or geocache. However, it is very important for people who are embarking on a new relationship to understand the responsibilities that the law will impress on them if they are found to be standing in the place of a parent.
Standing in the place of a parent to your partner’s child or children often does not play a large role, as long as the relationship between the biological parent and the step-parent continues. It is usually when the adults’ relationship ends that the question of the responsibility of the step-parent to the child becomes important. The Court will make a finding of whether an adult stands in the place of a parent to a child based on a number of factors. These factors include:
The Court looks at whether these factors existed during the relationship between the adults, not necessarily whether the factors continue after the end of the adults’ relationship. If the Court finds that there are enough of these factors in the relationship between adult and child, it will find that the adult stands in the place of a parent with the child. The Courts have been clear about the fact that the adult cannot unilaterally end their relationship with the child and, as a result, end their responsibilities to the child. The step-parent can be found to be standing in the place of a parent both in situations where they were married to the child’s biological parent, and in situations where they simply lived in an interdependent relationship with the biological parent. The marriage of the adults is not an indicator of whether the step-parent stands in the place of a parent.
Next month we will investigate the responsibilities that arise if a step-parent is found to be standing in the place of a parent to their partner’s children.