The best interests of the child standard in Section 7 of the Children’s Act recognises the need for children to remain in the care of their parents, family and extended family, and maintain a connection with his or her family and extended family. The question that is often asked is whether stepparents have rights when it comes to their stepchildren and/or fall into the category of family or extended family.
The Children’s Act does not specifically recognise the role of stepparents in the lives of a child and does not afford them any automatic rights towards the child. Generally speaking, this means that whether a stepparent is able to be part of a particular child’s life is largely subject to parental authority and dependent on the relationship the stepparent may have with the parents or holders of parental rights and responsibilities.
Section 23 of the Children’s Act does however grant stepparents the right, as persons having an interest in the care, well-being or development of a child, to apply to the courts for an order granting them rights to care for or have contact with a child.
In considering such applications the court will always consider the best interests of the child in question, the relationship between the stepparent and the child, the degree of commitment that the stepparent has shown towards the child, the extent to which a stepparent has contributed towards the expenses of the birth and/or maintenance of the child, and any other factor which should, in the opinion of the court, be taken into account.