“Everything Family” is the title of a current children’s book. What does that actually mean and what legally follows from the word family? Father, mother, child. The washing machine advertisements from the 1950s no longer reflect the reality of life for all families. Patchwork is the magic word. Every one of us is either affected by a patchwork constellation or knows someone who is. The phenomenon of patchwork and social parenthood is not new. Social parenthood means long-term assumption of responsibility and care for a child who is not biologically one’s own.
Social parenthood and legal implications in austria
New life situations are not only a challenge for children. New partners also have to be willing to get involved. If you get married or enter a relationship with a person who has a (small) child, this can lead to new family ties in the long term. But what if the new relationship does not last? What does this mean for social parents? For the person who may have picked up a child from school for years, taught it to snorkel and comforted it when it fell down?
patchwork: visitation for a social parent?
The legal situation of such “third parties”, as it is called in the law, has improved in recent years. It is now possible for important caregivers to enforce visitation even in court. Regardless of whether they are biologically related or not. It is sufficient that maintaining contact is in the child’s interest. If the new partner may have become some kind of parental substitute, a loss of this person can be painful for child(ren). However, the caregiver must be willing to continue to play a role in the child’s life. Third persons cannot be compelled to do so.
For example, if a person has developed a deep connection with the child of his or her partner and the relationship breaks down, an application for visitation can be filed directly with the court. Especially if it is important for the child that the contact does not break off and if an amicable solution with the ex-partner does not seem possible. Not only “step-parents” or social parents can be affected. Constellations are also conceivable where foster parents may have a right to contact or biological fathers whose paternity has not yet been established.
how do courts decide in patchwork cases?
The courts have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. The extent to which contact is granted also depends on how good the relationship with the child is. In recent years, courts have found it reasonable to maintain (extensive) contact, especially with former partners who had a parental function for the children before the separation.
It is clear that contact rights of social parents, stepparents or “third parties” are also in tension with the rights of the child’ a biological parents. The best interests of the child are paramount. It is not desirable that ex-partners instrumentalise contact with the child for dishonest motives. If the family life is disturbed or impaired by the children’s contact with former partners of the parents, courts will be reluctant to grant contact. Even if the relationship between the child and the third person is strong.