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Singapore Government

Clarifications on legal rights and responsibilities between step-parents and step-children

Clarifications on legal rights and responsibilities between step-parents and step-children

1 August 2017


Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development whether there is a need to comprehensively review family-related laws to define the legal rights and responsibilities between step-parents and step-children, particularly with regard to healthcare decision-making, estate succession and inheritance, and maintenance responsibilities.


The primary responsibility for a child lies with his or her parents, who are collectively responsible for the upbringing and welfare of the child. In a situation where the parents are divorced, major decisions for the child, including the child's medical and healthcare matters, may be made by the parent who has custody of the child, or by both parents if a joint custody order is made by the Courts.

What rights and responsibilities there may be between a step-parent and a step-child will depend on whether there is a legal relationship between them - i.e. whether the step-parent has been conferred legal rights and responsibilities over the step-children. Such a relationship could arise through adoption or the assumption of legal guardianship.

If a step-parent chooses to adopt, he or she will step into the shoes of the parent, and assume all rights and responsibilities that a parent naturally has. Alternatively, a step-parent may choose to apply to Court to be appointed as a legal guardian to his or her step-child.

Under the Women's Charter, any individual who is not the parent of a child, but who has accepted a child as a member of his or her family has a duty to maintain that child, so far as the father or mother of that child fails to do so. This would apply to a step-parent who accepts the step-child as his or her family member. Again, as the primary responsibility towards the child remains with the child's parents, the person who has accepted the child may recover such maintenance sums from the child's parent as a debt.

On estate succession and inheritance, a Will generally gives a testator certainty over who the beneficiaries would be, and what each would be entitled to. A step-parent who wishes to leave any part of his or her estate to a step-child is encouraged to make a Will. Intestacy law would apply in cases where a person passes on without a will.

For cases where the step-child is an adult and the step-parent is likely a senior, we speak less of rights and responsibilities, and more of ensuring that step-parents receive the support they need.

The Maintenance of Parents Act allows for a person who meets the criteria in the Act to apply for maintenance from a child, including a step-child, if the step-parent is unable to maintain himself or herself adequately.

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