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 their parent (your spouse) to sort out how you continue to be part of their lives.

You and the children's parent must make these types of decisions in the best interests of the children. It's not about what's convenient for you or their parent.

If you both agree about the arrangements, you can put them into a written agreement that you both sign.

If you can't both agree, you have options in the courts, including:

If you're applying for court orders, 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 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.

Both the BC Family Law Act and federal Divorce Act use similar terms to talk about parenting. It can be confusing. But it’s important to understand which law applies in your situation.

Parents who are or used to be married are called spouses in the Divorce Act. They have parenting time.

Some non-spouses, including parents who were never married and those who have (or plan to have) a parental role in the child's life, may also apply for parenting time. But they need to get the court's permission first. Most people apply under the BC Family Law Act instead.

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

Under the BC Family Law Act, you're a step-parent if:

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

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

  • you contributed to the children's support for at least one year, 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.