Blended families – what happens when you separate?

Much like the concept of the television show “Modern Family”, families are as diverse as they are complex and many of these multifaceted family structures often include the relationship between step-parents and step-children.

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) recognises “children have a right to spend time on a regular basis with, and communicate on a regular basis with, both their parents and other people significant to their care, welfare and development (such as grandparents and other relatives)”.

But what are the financial obligations on step-parents to maintain their step-children after separation?

Child Support Obligations

Parents of a child have the primary duty to maintain their child regardless of separation. This applies to biological, adoptive, or same sex parents. In certain circumstances when the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) determine it “proper”, the Court can impose a duty on a step-parent to pay Child Support for their step-child.

In determining whether it is “proper” to Order a step-parent to pay Child Support, the Court will consider:

a. the duration and circumstances of the marriage to, or relationship with, the relevant parent of the child;

b. the relationship that existed between the step-parent and the child;

c. the arrangements that have existed for the maintenance of the child; and

d. any special circumstances which, if not taken into account in the particular case, would result in injustice or undue hardship to any person.

When the Court have refused to make an Order for a step-parent to maintain a child

In the case of Henning & Henning, the Court was required to decide an Application where the step-father sought an Order to be relieved of his Child Support obligations, and the Mother sought that the step-father “continue to pay child support for the child of the relationship”.

The Court ultimately decided in favour of the step-father and made a declaration that the step-father was “not a person who should be assessed in respect of costs of the child as he was not a parent of the child”.

In handing down the decision, the Court considered the step-father’s evidence that “he fondly looked after the child and still had kind regard for him, but had cut ties with the child, only seeing him when the mother brought him to his house”.

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