Same-sex step-parents have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual step-parents, which are covered by federal law.

If you began your same-sex relationship after your children were conceived (whether in a previous relationship or as a sole parent), then the non-biological parent can be recognised as a step-mother or step-father, just like step-parents in heterosexual relationships. Step-parents’ rights and responsibilities are covered by federal law, and are not equal to those of legal parents . The best option for legally recognising a step-parent’s role is a court parenting order (see co-parent families for more about orders by consent).

The Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 (ART) Act came about through a five-year enquiry by the Victorian Law Reform Commission. The Commission made recommendations to reform adoption laws to allow same-sex couples to apply for adoption. The Victorian government referred the adoption recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission to a federal committee in December 2007. At present, most forms of same-sex adoption – including step-parent adoption – are still not allowed in Victoria. If this changes, step-parent adoption may be an option for children who have one legal parent.

The Victorian Department of Human Services recommends against step-parent adoption for children who already have two legal parents (for example from the biological parent’s prior relationship). Research shows that for these children, parenting orders are often a better option for recognising their same-sex step-parent. This is because step-parent adoption severs children’s legal relationship with their former parent and extended family, removing their inheritance rights, and potentially leave them with an incomplete sense of their origins and history.

Stepfamilies Australia and your local legal service can tell you more about step-parents’ legal rights and responsibilities.