Re-partnership with children or adult children is often a relationship minefield. So what, if any, are your financial responsibilities as a step parent to your step children upon the breakdown of your “Brady Bunch”.
A step parent is defined in section 4(1) of the Family Law Act 1975 as a person who:
- is not a parent of the child;
- is or has been married to or a de facto partner of a parent of the child; and
- treats, or at any time while married to, or a de facto partner of, the parent treated, the child as a member of the family formed with the parent.
There are a number of principles that a court must consider before establishing that a step parent has a duty to financially support a step child upon separation.
The Family Law Act 1975 states that a step parent of the child has a duty to maintain a step child if and only if, a Court determines that it is proper for the step parent to have that duty.
Any duty of the step parent is secondary to the primary duty of the child’s parents to provide financial support. When the Court is considering whether it is “proper” for a step parent to maintain a child, there are a number of matters the Court must consider. These include:
- The length and circumstances of the marriage to or the relationship with the relevant parent of the child;
- The relationship that has existed between the step parent and the child;
- The arrangements that have existed for the maintenance of the child; and
- Any special circumstance which, if not taken into account, in the particular case, would result in injustice or undue hardship to any person.
The case law suggests the following:
- The shorter the relationship between the step parent and the child, the less likely the step parent will be obliged to provide financial support for the step child.
- In situations where the step parent has had very little contact with the step child since separation, and is unlikely to have contact in the future, or in a situation where the relationship between the child and step parent is not strong, it may not be appropriate for an Order to be made for the step parent to provide financial support for the step child.