Understanding Adoption

Adoption is a hugely rewarding and incredibly emotional process. At Family Solicitors we understand the challenges ahead for all parties concerned. Below you will find a wealth of information on the subject, if you would like to be connected to an expert, please fill in the form on this page and we will respond as soon as possible.

What is adoption and who can apply?

Adoption is where a child legally becomes a member of a new family and has one or two new parents. If you are at least 21 years old and can provide a permanent, stable and caring home, your application to adopt will be welcomed. There is no upper age limit.

Adoption orders

Only a court can make an adoption order. The effect of the adoption order is that the birth parents no longer have any parental rights and responsibilities for their child. Those rights and responsibilities are given to the adoptive parents.

Once the court has made an adoption order the child becomes a full member of the adoptive family. They take the surname of their adoptive parents and have the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to them. This includes the right of inheritance.

Before the court can make an adoption order, the court has to be satisfied of all of the following:

  • the child was under the age of 18 when the adoption application was made
  • the child is not – or has never been – married or in a civil partnership
  • both birth parents have given their consent to the adoption

In some cases, it is not necessary to get consent from the birth parent or guardian. This happens when the:

  • birth parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent
  • child’s welfare would be at risk if the adoption order was delayed

Who can apply to adopt?

The following are eligible to apply to adopt:

  • single people (irrespective of their sexual orientation)
  • a partner of a parent of the child to be adopted
  • married couples
  • civil partners
  • unmarried couples (same sex and different sex) living as partners in a stable family relationship

Your application will be considered on the basis of whether you can meet the adopted child’s needs. It does not matter whether you own your own home or are in or out of work.

You and all adult members of your household will be required to have a police check.

Do you have to be a British Citizen?

You do not need to be a British citizen. However, if you are adopting as a couple with your spouse or partner, one of you must be domiciled in the British Islands. Both of you have to have been habitually resident there for at least one year before you apply to the court for an adoption order

If you are adopting as a single person you must be domiciled in a part of the British Islands and have to have been habitually resident there for at least one year before you apply to the court for an adoption order

British Islands means England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Furthermore, you should seek legal advice if you are unsure whether you are domiciled or habitually resident in the British Islands.

The process of adopting a ‘looked-after’ child

A looked-after child is one who is in public care. This means they are looked after by a local authority (LA). To adopt a looked-after child you will need to submit an application to an adoption agency, which will assess your suitability. Then the court will decide whether to make an adoption order in your favour.

Initial application for adoption

The first thing you must do is contact your local adoption agency. They will:

  • send you general written information about the adoption process, like how long each part will take and the agency’s expectation of adopters
  • invite you to a group information meeting, where you can hear about adoption and talk to adopters about their experiences
  • give you counselling to help you understand the needs of the children, who may have experienced neglect or abuse in their early childhood

The agency will also help you decide if adoption is right for you and your family. If you and the agency agree to proceed, the agency will issue you with an application form.

Preparation, assessment and training

When the adoption agency accepts your written application, it will:

  • invite you to preparation classes – these are normally held locally and offer parenting advice and information on issues like the skills required for adoption, the needs of adopted children and the effect adoption can have on all the people involved
  • carry out police checks to be sure that you or an adult member of your family have not committed an offence that would make you ineligible to adopt
  • interview referees who know you and your family
  • organise for you to have a full medical examination
  • arrange for a social worker to visit you and carry out a detailed assessment of your suitability to become an adoptive parent – including your strengths and weaknesses, areas you might need support in, and the stability of your  relationship if you are adopting as a couple

Because of these processes the assessment is demanding, lengthy, in-depth and can feel intrusive. This is so the agency can be sure you’re able to meet the needs of the child and can make a success of the adoption.

When your social worker has finished your assessment, they will send your papers to the adoption panel. This is a group of people who are experienced in adoption. Furthermore, you will be able to attend the adoption panel meeting to ask and answer questions. The adoption panel will make a recommendation to the agency, which will then make the decision whether or not you are suitable to adopt a child.

How long does it take to adopt?

The time it takes to adopt will vary. It will take just over eight months for the adoption agency to complete its assessment of your suitability to adopt. Then a matter of weeks for the agency to match you with a child.

Once the child goes to live with you, it is for you to decide when to apply to the court for an adoption order. However, the child must have lived with you for at least ten weeks. An adoption order means that parental rights and responsibilities for the child are given to the adoptive parents.

How do children become matched with adopters?

Once your agency considers you are suitable to adopt, it will begin the process of finding you a suitable child. If a match doesn’t take place after three months, you can be referred to the Adoption Register for England and Wales.

The Register holds details of children across England and Wales who need a family. It will be searched to identify a child whose needs you can meet. Once a link has been made, your details will be passed on to the child’s social worker.

If an adoption agency does not consider you suitable

You have two options if you disagree with an adoption agency’s decision. You can either:

  • challenge the agency’s decision and explain why you disagree
  • apply to the Independent Review Mechanism to look into the agency’s decision-making process

Support for adoptive parents

You and your adopted child may need support and you are entitled to have an assessment of your family’s needs. LAs must have the following range of adoption support services available:

  • advice, information and counselling
  • financial support
  • support groups for adopted children and adoptive parents
  • therapeutic services for adopted children, like re-introducing children with a history of abuse and neglect to sensations of touch, smell, taste and sight through therapeutic games and exercises
  • support for contact arrangements between an adopted child and their birth family
  • services to support the relationship between the adopted child and their adoptive parents

Inter-country adoption

Although there are many children in the UK who are looking for an adoptive family, there are also many children overseas who need homes. You can give them the opportunity to belong to a permanent family, but there are rules and regulations you need to be aware of.

Inter-country adoption is allowed in circumstances where the:

  • child cannot be cared for in a safe environment in their own country
  • adoption would be in the best interests of the child and wouldn’t affect their internationally recognised human rights
  • adopter has been assessed as eligible and suitable to adopt from overseas by an adoption agency in the UK

First steps for adopting a child from overseas

If you wish to adopt a child from overseas you should speak to either:

  • your local authority (LA)
  • a voluntary adoption agency registered to provide an inter-country adoption service

The inter-country adoption process

Once you have decided to adopt a child from overseas, your suitability will be assessed by a UK adoption agency. This assessment will be the same as if you were adopting in the UK.

The following will then occur:

  • the relevant papers will be sent to the DfE for checking and a certificate of eligibility to adopt will be issued
  • DFE will then forward the paperwork to the overseas authority, which will look for a suitable match with a child
  • you will visit the child in the child’s country
  • your adoption agency will ask you to confirm that you want to go ahead with the adoption
  • you will need to request the necessary confirmations overseas and in the UK to return home with the child (your adoption agency will advise you)

Adoption by a Step Parent

If you are seeking to adopt a child of your partner you are likely to have different concerns than many other people who choose to adopt in quite different circumstances. Unfortunately there is little help available to step families and those considering taking this step, although this is improving.

Across the UK, there are many children who live within step-families. For most there will never be an occasion when it is in their best interest to be adopted by their parents partner. If you are considering this option for a child you should look at your current situation, and why this might be in the child’s best interests to be changed. Remember also, that merely applying for an adoption order could change things. For example, if the other parent of the child/ren is not currently in contact with them, they may respond to your application for an adoption order by renewing their contact, often temporarily, as a reaction to this. In such cases the well-being of the child, who faces the prospect of a second parting from one of their parents in the near future, may be harmed.

Frequently asked questions

I would like my new partner to adopt my child

The first issue that many adults tend to forget is that adoption is about, and for children. What adults want is relevant but the court will not consider this to be an over-riding concern when it comes to making a decision.

Although it is quite natural for you to feel that your family will only be complete if the child were to be adopted by your new partner there are some who would suggest that there are other legal alternatives to adoption that should be considered fully.

I have recently married my partner

You no longer need to be married to adopt the child/ren of your partner.

Do I have to get the other parents agreement to the adoption?

If the other parent is the mother, you will need her agreement. A court can dispense with the need for her agreement but there have to be very good reasons for them to do so.

If the other parent is the father and he was married to the child’s mother, you will need his agreement. A court can dispense with the need for his agreement but there have to be very good reasons for them to do so. .

If the other parent is the father and he has parental responsibility, you will need his agreement. A court can dispense with the need for his agreement but there have to be very good reasons for them to do so.

Parental Responsibility is usually only obtained in one of four ways, by:

  • obtaining a residence order from a court stating the child lives with them
  • having a parental responsibility agreement
  • being appointed guardian to care for the child if a parent dies
  • adopting the child

If the other parent is the father but he was not married to the child’s mother, nor has he obtained parental responsibility for them. His agreement is not required.

Parental Responsibility is usually only obtained in one of four ways, by:

  • obtaining a residence order from a court stating the child lives with them,
  • having a parental responsibility agreement,
  • being appointed guardian to care for the child if a parent dies,
  • adopting the child.

Will the other parent have to be involved?

Irrespective of the birth parents legal status the court will require a report (Schedule 2) to be compiled and wherever possible the wishes of both birth parents will be ascertained and what role they might intend to play in the future in respect of the child. Your current relationship with him or her, or the amount of contact they have with the child will not remove the responsibility for finding out their views, and reporting them back to the court.

But I do not know where the other parent is

You will have to provide the court with all the relevant information in order for others to try to contact them. They may also be unable to do so and will complete their report stating that this is the case.

But the other parent has not been in contact with their child

This is not a reason for the social worker compiling the Schedule 2 report not to try to ascertain their wishes in respect of any application to adopt.

But the other parent has not recently / never paid child maintenance.
This is irrelevant. In fact, the court will still need to find out their opinions on the proposed adoption.

The other parent will never agree to the adoption

The court can dispense with the need for their agreement but there have to be very good reasons for doing so. Therefore, when applying for the adoption order you can make a statement of fact. You will have to give the grounds for this request. These ‘grounds’ should be one or more of the following, the parent or guardian:

  • cannot be found or is incapable of giving agreement;
  • is withholding his agreement unreasonably;
  • has consistently failed without reasonable cause to discharge his parental responsibility for the child;
  • abandoned or neglected the child;
  • has persistently ill-treated the child;

For further assistance regarding adoption please feel free to telephone us on 0333 2070 601 or visit the contact us page. If you do not wish to speak confidentially to one of our experts, you can find out more information on the Governments official website.

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