A LAW going through parliament has recognised the role of stepparents for the first time - and looks to define their authority within a recomposed family.
The Loi Famille has been described as a “watered down” version of one scrapped in February after protests from traditionalists.
It focuses on measures for familles recomposées (where children live with at least one adult who is not their natural parent). Notably, it proposes a mandat d’éducation, by which a child’s parents could sign a paper giving a stepparent the right to undertake “daily tasks” for the child, such as picking him or her up from school or taking them to see a doctor.
Founder of Le Club des Marâtres, for parents in familles recomposées, Marie-Luce Iovane-Chesneau said: “It’s the first time in French law that stepparents are explicitly talked about, which is positive.”
However she said that, contrary to the intention, the mandat may complicate life and be hard to agree on between the parties.
She said they would have preferred an explicit list of “acts of parental authority” (defined as ones having a significant impact on the child’s future) and that stepparents should be able to carry out other daily acts without formalities.
This is lacking at present, causing uncertainty, she said. “Most stepparents don’t want to take the parents’ place; they want a recognised existence alongside the parent they live with.”
Also unaddressed in the text is the fact that for inheritance law and tax a stepparent and stepchild are considered “strangers,” attracting a high rate of tax. Ms Chesneau said she thought the issue needed addressing but it was probably too soon although the new law may be a first step.
A spokeswoman for family rights body Union Nationale des Associations Familiales said they would have preferred, rather than a new procedure, simplification of an existing one, délégation partage, by which parents may ask a judge to give varying degrees of parental authority to a third party. It was poorly known and complex, she said. She added that for such daily procedures as collecting a child from school, a parent can already give written permission to a stepparent for a given act, and if they need greater rights, a stepparent can adopt a child.
She said one of the best aspects of the bill is a new focus on mediation in separation. A judge may require separating parents to have up to two sessions, so they agree on the organisation of their future family life. Other proposals in the law include a presumption of “double residence” for children in a break-up and both parents to have to agree on “important acts” concerning children, such as a change of school.