Q: I love my girlfriend a lot but she has two children by someone who has long since disappeared off the scene and doesn’t have any contact with them or pay any maintenance for them. I am worried that if I marry her and things don’t work out I might have to pay maintenance for her children, yet their father could come back at any time and decide he wants to renew contact. Can you confirm the situation please?
A: If you and your girlfriend married and you treated her children, i.e. your stepchildren, as part of your family, then a court could order you to make financial provision for them if you divorced. The court’s decision would be based on a number of factors including the children’s financial needs and whether or not there was any other financial provision in place for them, such as maintenance being supplied by, for example, their own father.
Financial provision does not necessarily just include maintenance; it can also include lump sums, payment of school fees or transfers of property. As well as taking into account the financial needs of the children the court also takes into account the financial situations of both divorcing parties.
Another consideration is that when a step-parent dies any step-children who have either been treated by the deceased as a child of the family, or else have been financially dependent on the step-parent, may be able to make a claim against their estate if ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been made for them in the in the deceased’s will.
Regarding your concerns about the reappearance of the children’s father, it is possible for a step-parent to apply to the court for a parental responsibility order, even if their relationship has broken down with the other parent. Seeking more in-depth specialist legal advice could clarify the situation further.