Step-parents who want to adopt
This page gives some basic guidance on applications for step-parents to adopt. A family lawyer at Sugare & Co. would happily provide some specific advice based on your circumstances if you contact us.
What is the importance of an adoption order?
The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’
This means that those with parental responsibility can have a voice when it comes to making major decisions about and for the child, for example where the child lives or goes to school, whether they should have medical treatment and what, if any, religion they should practise.
To give parental responsibility to an adopter (a step-parent) an adoption order is needed. This will allow them to share parental responsibility with the child’s parent – the step-parent’s partner.
The adoption order would change the child’s legal status and ensure the child becomes a full member of the family with the step-parent in it, and removes any legal ties with the child’s other birth parent. However adoption orders are only made when the court has conducted extensive enquiries and, most crucially, if it deems it to be in the child’s best interests.
What options are there other than an adoption order?
There are a number of routes a step-parent can go take in obtaining parental responsibility for their step-child:
- Court orders can give parental responsibility
- The step-parent and child’s birth parents could come to an agreement that parental responsibility be shared with the step-parent
- A step-parent could apply for a Child Arrangements Order which could set out what time the child spends with them. This would allow the step-parent to exercise parental responsibility for the child while the order is in place
- But ultimately, an adoption order is the most binding and secure way to gain parental responsibility for the child and make them a part of the family.
What criteria must a step-parent satisfy to apply for an adoption order?
- Over 21 years old
- Live in the UK, or been habitually resident in the UK for a year
- Be the partner of the parent whose child they wish to adopt
- Been living with the child for 6 months before making the application
- Give 3+ months written notice to the local authority where the child lives that an application is being made
How does it work?
Applications have to be made on specific forms and require a fee to be paid; those making the application are called applicants. Other parents with parental responsibility of the child – including the step-parent’s partner – has the application sent to them and the opportunity to respond to it; they are called the respondents. Sometimes a child’s father does not have parental responsibility and is therefore not automatically a respondent, so they may not find out about the application. However it is advised that he be warned about it and give him the chance to express a view on it. The court may give him respondent status, giving him the chance to formally prepare a response to set out his position.
Should one of the child’s birth parents not agree to the adoption order and you want the court to make the order regardless, you are asking the court to ‘dispense with consent’. You must then complete a statement which summarises the case and facts and expresses why the court should dispense with the parent’s consent.
Upon receiving the application, the court fixes a date and time for a first hearing, at which it sets directions for how the case will move forward. The court orders reports to be prepared, which will include one from the local authority looking at how suitable you are to adopt and at the checklist in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which must be considered by the court when coming to a decision on the application. The local authority will interview the applicant when preparing the report and the finished report will contain detailed information to aid the court in deciding whether it should make the order.
What will happen at court?
The court lists a final hearing where the applicant and child are expected to attend. It can excuse parties from attending such hearings, though this is uncommon. The court wants to ensure the child understands, as much as possible, how serious and far-reaching the effect of the order being asked to make can be. The court considers all of the evidence before it from the different parties involved, and makes the final, binding decision.
What does the judge have to consider?
The court’s first concern is the child’s welfare for the rest of their life. There is a welfare checklist which judges must look at to help with their decision-making. It includes:
- the child’s wishes and feelings;
- the child’s particular needs;
- the likely effect on the child of no longer being a member of its original family and becoming adopted;
- the child’s age, sex, background and other characteristics the court views as relevant;
- harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
- the relationship the child has with relatives and any other person the court considers relevant, including:
- the likelihood of those relationships continuing and how valuable they would be to the child;
- the capability and readiness of any of the child’s relatives to provide the child with a secure environment in which they can develop to meet the child’s needs; and
- wishes and feelings of any relatives of the child.
The court also has to consider the fact that connections with the birth parent will be severed and weigh this against the benefits of the child being adopted. In doing so, it will examine the value and nature of the relationship the child has with their birth parent and examine the relationship and family connections already existing between the child and the step-parent’s family unit.
For example, a birth parent who has not had much involvement with the child for long or has only played a small role in the child’s life or has rarely asserted their parental responsibility for the child, would make it more likely that the court would deem it suitable to make an adoption order.
However, if the birth parent has been involved in the child’s life and does not agree with the adoption order, the judge would look closely at the reasons for the order application to ensure it was not being used to simply gain control over the child’s upbringing or exclude the birth parent from the child’s life. It is important to note that when there are disagreements over the practical arrangements or considerations for how a child should be brought up these should be addressed by making an application for a child arrangements order as opposed to an adoption order.