What are the rules for paying maintenance/support for step children after separation?

A financial obligation to support a step child after the relationship has broken down is not automatic or dealt with in the same way as child maintenance in relation to a natural parent. Only standard cases are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) because their legal jurisdiction is limited to calculating maintenance for natural parents and their children. Step child maintenance is one of the few aspects of child support that the court still has the power to order.

If you have concerns about your child or step child and you feel you need legal advice, contact specialist family solicitor Mark Heptinstall of Slater Heelis. He is recognised as a ‘Leading Individual’ in The Legal 500 and ranked in Chambers UK, and is described as having “the amazing ability to bring calm into troubled waters”.

It is possible for the natural parent with day-to-day care of the child to apply for a court order against a step parent for maintenance of a step child, but the application will be based on the child having been treated as a “child of the family”.

What does “child of the family” mean?

Child of the family is a legal concept that relates to children who are not the biological birth child of one of the parties to the marriage but who have been accepted and treated by them as a child of their family. This concept is taken from the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, although it is relevant to family law cases, as the term is used interchangeably.

What is the legal definition of a step parent?

At the very least, a step parent must be married or in a civil partnership with the child’s biological parent. Simply living together, even if this is for a substantial period of time, is not sufficient, whether a traditional parenting role has been taken on or not.

Obtaining step parent status, however, does not bestow any rights or obligations in respect of a child and neither does it confer parental responsibility. Find further details on how to obtain step parental responsibility.

If your spouse dies during the marriage or civil partnership, you won’t automatically receive parental responsibility. So, if you want to look after your step children day-to-day, you will need to apply to court for a child arrangements order. If successful, you will also obtain parental responsibility as part of the court order.

What can the court order in respect of step child maintenance?

Ordinarily, step parents have no legal obligation to make financial contributions towards their step child’s life. However, if a step child was brought up as a child of the family, the court may decide that a step parent should pay child maintenance. This could be by way of a lump sum payment, monthly maintenance payments, a home via property transfer, or payment of school fees. Any maintenance awarded will be balanced against the natural parents’ obligations and things such as the step parents income and earning capacity.


Can my step children claim against my estate if I die?

When a step parent dies, any step children who have been treated by the deceased as a child of the family, or who has been financially dependent on the step parent, may be able to claim against their estate if reasonable financial provision has not been made for them in the deceased person’s will.

What is reasonable financial provision?

Reasonable financial provision differs depending on someone’s relationship to the deceased, but generally if they were having their living costs met or were financially dependent on them there may be grounds for making a claim that the will does make adequate provision. However, this does not mean that the will can simply be challenged because the person felt left out; it was unfair, or not as expected.

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