Step-parents' rights and responsibilities

If you have stepchildren and you separate from their parent, you might want:

  • to carry on your relationship with those children, and
  • to keep being like a parent to them.

You'll probably also want to know if you have to pay support for the children.

How can you carry on your relationship with your stepchildren?

If you want to carry on your relationship with your stepchildren, you can try to talk to the children's parent to sort out how you can have regular contact with the children.

When you and their parent are making these types of decisions, the best interests of the children have to come first. It's not about what's convenient for you or their parent. That means you might not be happy with the decision.

If you sort out something between you, you can put it into a written agreement that you and the children's parent both sign.

But if you want to become the children's guardian, you have to get a court order. The law says that a person can't become a guardian by just writing it in an agreement (this includes parents who aren't guardians). See How can you become a child's guardian? to find out more about this.

You can also apply to court for an order for contact with the children if the two of you can't agree about it.

In either case, you'll have to show the court that the orders you're asking for are in your stepchildren's best interests.

To find out more:

  • See the guides on this website to find out how to apply for guardianship or contact with a child.
  • See Parenting apart to find out what it means to be a guardian or have contact with a child.
  • See Best interests of the child to find out what the court looks at when it's making decisions that will affect a child's life.

If you want to adopt a stepchild, see Adoption by a Relative or Step Parent on the BC government website.

Do you have to pay support for your stepchildren after you separate?

If you're a step-parent, you might have to pay child support if:

  • you and the child's parent are, or were, married or lived together (you might call it being in a common-law relationship) for at least two years, and
  • you also lived with the child.

If either of the two points above apply to you, you only have to pay child support if:

  • you contributed to the children's support for at least one year during your relationship with the children's parent, and
  • the application for support is made within a year of the last time you contributed to the children's support.

A step-parent's responsibility to pay child support comes after the children's parents' or guardians' responsibility.

If the court is looking at whether a step-parent should pay child support, it will look at:

  • the children's standard of living when they lived with the step-parent, and
  • how long they lived together.

This can be complicated. It's a good idea to get legal advice before you make or change any decisions about adoption, guardianship, or other parenting issues.