Step Parent Adoption - Adopting a Stepchild
You don’t need to be biologically related to your child to be their parent. Step parent adoption allows your relationship with your child to be legally recognised, cementing your bond and bringing you both many benefits.
It is very common nowadays for people to separate, get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution and later get remarried, bringing children from the previous relationship. In many families, the step parent takes on the full responsibility of raising their partner’s child and in turn, the child may recognise their step parent as their true parent.
However, as a step parent, you do not have the same legal rights and responsibilities as your partner or the child’s other legal parent (if they have one). This can have many implications, including:
- You do not automatically have parental responsibility (the rights and responsibilities to raise the child)
- If you pass away without making a Will, your child cannot automatically inherit (and vice versa)
- If you and your partner break up, you will have no automatic rights to see the child or contribute to decisions about their upbringing
We understand that being recognised as your step child’s parent will also be important to you on an emotional level. You may feel like your family will be complete once your bond with your step child is officially secured.
We can provide clear, practical advice about adopting your stepchild, including the legal benefits and implications of obtaining an Adoption Order and whether there are any alternative options to explore. Our family law team are highly skilled at approaching stepchild adoption matters in a sympathetic but pragmatic way. We take a child-centred approach at all times to ensure that every outcome is in the best interests of your family as a whole. We can also assist in contentious matters, for example, where the child has a legal parent whose rights would be extinguished by your Adoption Order.
Our team are members of the Law Society Family Law Advanced Accreditation which signifies our ability to handle particularly complex matters such as stepchild adoption matters involving international elements. Our family lawyers are also members of Resolution and can provide advice about Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as collaborative law and mediation which can be helpful at resolving any disagreements that arise throughout the adoption process.
How to adopt a step child
To be able to adopt your stepchild, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
- You must be at least 21 years old
- You must be married or in a civil partnership with the resident natural parent or you live with them in an ‘enduring family relationship’ (usually for at least one or two years, depending on your local council’s policies)
- You must reside in the British Isles or have been habitually resident for at least one year
- You must have lived with the child for at least six months
- You must notify the local council in writing that you intend to apply to adopt the child at least three months before making the application
- The child must be under 18 years old
The adoption process
To adopt your stepchild and become their legal parent, you must obtain an Adoption Order from the family court. Before the court will grant an Order, you need to go through an adoption process through your local council.
Your local council will undertake an assessment and provide a report about your family circumstances and suitability to adopt. The report will include an assessment of your relationship with your partner. If you are not married or in a civil partnership with your partner, you must convince the court that your relationship is long-term and stable.
How does the court decide whether to grant an Adoption Order?
The court will only make the Order if it is in the best interests of the child involved. They will usually appoint an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) to represent the child’s interests during the proceedings. The CAFCASS officer will speak to the child and find out their wishes about the adoption. If the child is older, the court will likely put considerable weight on the child’s wishes.
The child’s parents need to consent to the adoption
The court must also consider the child’s legal parents. It may be the case that your partner’s former partner still has parental responsibility for the child. This means that they have a say in decisions about the child. The birth mother will always have parental responsibility but the biological father may not if their name is not on the child’s birth certificate.
If the parents agree to the adoption, the court can go ahead and make the Adoption Order. If your partner’s former partner refuses to consent, the proceedings are likely to be much longer and more expensive.
If you are concerned that your partner’s former partner will contest your adoption application, we can provide practical legal advice, including whether there are any better alternatives to adoption.
Making the Adoption Order
If the court is satisfied with the local authority’s report and have decided that adoption would be in the best interests of the child, they will make the Adoption Order.
The effect of an Adoption Order
Once the Adoption Order is granted, you will become the child’s legal parent along with your partner. In turn, your parents and wider family will become the child’s grandparents and wider family. Your child will receive inheritance rights and you will become legally responsible for providing financially for the child even if you and your partner split up in future. You can also change the child’s surname unless the court orders that you cannot.
As the child’s legal parent, you will automatically get parental responsibility – the rights and responsibilities associated with raising a child. For more information about this, visit our Parental Responsibility page.
Is step parent adoption right for your family?
Before you apply for adoption it is worth considering whether there are any alternatives, particularly if your stepchild has a parent who would lose all their parental rights during the process.
It is important to consider your partner and child’s feelings about the situation. If the child is still close to or looks up to their non-resident natural parent, removing them from the picture could cause a lot of tension without your family (although adoption does not necessarily mean that the natural parent will never see the child again). However, if the natural parent is absent from the child’s life, adoption may be a positive step both legally and to provide your child with security and certainty.
As part of our service, we can help you decide whether adoption is the right step for your family and whether there are any alternatives. For example, if your main goal is to secure inheritance rights for your step children, the same purpose could be fulfilled by making a Will.
If your main goal is to get parental responsibility, you have several other options, including:
Parental Responsibility Agreements
If you are married or in a civil partnership with your partner, they can make an agreement with you to share their parental responsibility. However, if there is anyone else with parental responsibility, such as the child’s other natural parent, they would also need to consent to you receiving parental responsibility.
Once consent is obtained, your agreement must be submitted to court to be turned into a Parental Responsibility Order. We can provide assistance about coming to an agreement, filling out the necessary forms and going through the court process.
Parental Responsibility Orders
If it is not possible to come to an agreement with everyone else with parental responsibility, you can apply to court for a Parental Responsibility Order anyway. Like all other child-related court orders, the court will only make a decision in the best interests of the child, taking into account factors like your relationship with the child, their age and understanding of the situation and their personal wishes.
If parental responsibility is granted, you will still have to make any decisions about the child with everyone else with parental responsibility.
We can provide advice on whether seeking a Parental Responsibility Order may be right for you and your family.
Child Arrangements Orders
If the court grants a Child Arrangements Order that places the child to live with the step parent (with or without one of the child’s natural parents) then they are also automatically granted parental responsibility.
For more information, visit our Child Arrangements Orders page.
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