Using adoption to secure your family’s status

Adoption can be a useful way of securing your status as a parent of a child who is already part of your family if you are not otherwise recognised as his or her legal parent. This might be because:

  • You are a step-parent – your child was conceived in a previous relationship of your partner’s
  • You conceived your child through donor conception but are not a legal parent (perhaps because you and your partner were unmarried and conceived through home insemination or at a clinic outside the UK)
  • Your child was born through surrogacy and you are not eligible to apply for a parental order because you do not have a biological connection, or because you are resident but not domiciled in the UK.

What legal effect does an adoption order have?

If an adoption order is made in your favour, you will become your child’s legal parent/s for all UK law purposes, in the same position legally as if your child was born to you.  Adoption will give you a lifelong connection with your child, including:

  • Parental responsibility – you will be able to make and be involved in decision-making about your child
  • Financial responsibility- you will have a duty to provide for your child, including paying child maintenance if you do not live with them
  • Inheritance rights – your child will inherit from you if you die without a will
  • British nationality – you can transmit your British nationality to your child in most cases.

An adoption order will also extinguish the legal parenthood of your child’s other legal parents, other than your partner.  If you are adopting post-surrogacy this means that the legal parenthood of your surrogate and spouse will be extinguished by an adoption order. If you are adopting a step-child then your partner will stay a legal parent but the adoption will extinguish the status of your child’s other parent, if there is one. Similarly if you are adopting a child conceived by you and your partner through donor conception, then if your donor is a legal parent their status will be extinguished by the making of an adoption order in your favour.

How do I apply for adoption in England and Wales?

The process of applying for adoption in England and Wales is set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

You must first give notice in writing to your local authority of your intention to apply for adoption.  You must wait at least three months (and not more than two years) after giving your notice to the local authority before you apply to court.

Your local authority will appoint a social worker to investigate the case and prepare a report for the court making a recommendation about whether the adoption order should be made.  He or she will need to visit you at least a few times and carry out background checks on you.

Once your notice period has expired, you can then make your formal application to the Family Court.  You do this by completing Form A58 and sending it to the Family Court with the relevant documents and court fee.

You must have lived with your child for a specified period before you can make the court application.  For adopters applying to adopt their partners’ children this is six months; for most other adopters it is three years but you may be able to seek the court’s permission to apply earlier (for example in non-biological surrogacy cases).

The court will assess your eligibility (you must be over 21, meet the relationship status criteria and either be domiciled in the UK or have been habitually resident in the UK for at least a year) and whether the adoption order will safeguard your child’s lifelong welfare.

Your child’s birth parents will also need to give consent if they have parental responsibility (unless the court agrees to waive consent) and this will need to be dealt with.

The court process will take a number of months and there may be one or more court hearings.

At the end of the adoption process your child will receive an adoption certificate which in effect replaces their birth certificate as their main identity document. It will record whoever are your child’s legal parents as their parents.

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