Recognition of overseas adoptions in UK law

The law governing how overseas adoptions are recognised in the UK is complex. If you have created your family through adoption abroad and are British or plan to live in the UK, then you may want to know whether you are recognised as a family under UK law, and whether your child is (or can become) a British citizen.

Are we recognised as our adopted child’s legal parents under UK law?

If you have adopted a child in another country, your overseas adoption order may or may not be recognised by English law.  If your overseas adoption is recognised, you are your child’s legal parents in the UK and can make an application for an English adoption certificate to confirm this if you wish. If your overseas adoption is not recognised, you will not legally be your child’s parents in the UK.

To determine whether your overseas adoption is recognised by English law you need to know the date of your adoption and the country in which it was granted. The UK government has a ‘designated list’ of countries from which it automatically recognises adoption orders.  The list was updated as from 3 January 2014 (broadly speaking to include all countries which are signatories to the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption 1993), so there is a different list for adoptions made before 3 January 2014 and those made afterwards.

If your adoption is not recognised by UK law, you may be able to apply to the English Family Court for either:

  • a recognition order (which says that your adoption should be recognised on the basis of previous case law, even if it does not have statutory recognition) or
  • a domestic English adoption order made under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (which in effect re-confirms your overseas adoption in England and Wales).

Which is the appropriate route for you will depend on your personal circumstances, in particular where you are ‘domiciled’ now and when the adoption order was made. Domicile is an often misunderstood UK legal concept which relates, not to where you are currently living or your citizenship status, but to a much wider assessment of where your permanent home is. 

Is my child adopted overseas a British citizen?

Even if your adoption is recognised in the UK, your child will not necessarily be a British citizen. The British Nationality Act 1981 sets out the circumstances in which people are British.  It says that adopted children are  British only if either:

  • an adoption order is made by the UK court in favour of an adoptive parent who is British, or
  • an overseas adoption order is made in a Hague Convention country with both the adoptive parents being habitually resident in the UK at the date of the adoption order.

Therefore if you are British and adopted a child while living outside the UK (whether in a Hague Convention country or otherwise), or if you did not adopt from a Hague Convention country, then your child will not be British, irrespective of whether or not your adoptive parenthood is recognised in the UK.

You may be able to make an application to the Home Office to ask for your child to be ‘registered’ as a British citizen on a discretionary basis.  The Home Office has a policy which sets out the requirements for such applications and the circumstances in which they will normally be granted.

Some parents fall outside the scope of this policy (most typically where the overseas adoption is not a recognised adoption).  In such cases, you will likely need to make an application to the Family Court, either to have your overseas adoption recognised or for a domestic UK adoption order.

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