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Adoption

Adoption of a child is a very important legal process in the UK. It extinguishes all rights and responsibilities of the birth family and substitutes a completely new relationship with an adoptive family. The original parents’ parental responsibility is extinguished and there is a complete severing of all legal ties with the birth family. This cut-off from his or her family of origin has life-long effects on the person adopted.

A child adopted by either a single person or a couple, becomes a child of that person or couple. The adopters may change the child’s name. This has important implications for inheritance rights.  The adoptive child loses the right to inherit from the birth family and gains inheritance rights from the adoptive family.

Hence, a gift by Will to “my (unnamed) grandchildren” will include an adopted grandchild but not a grandchild who has since been adopted. It would be different if the child was named in the Will.For further information about making or changing your Will, please click here.

Adoption will also extinguish any duty to make payments for the child’s maintenance or upbringing relating to the period after the adoption.

Most importantly, adoption extinguishes all parental rights to contact with the child, and any court orders creating parental rights and regulating them. If there is to be any kind of contact between the birth family and the child after the adoption order, this will usually be dealt with in a plan presented by the local authority to the court.

Contact may be dealt with in the recital to the court order. There may be a possibility that contact can be applied for in the form of a child arrangements order.

What Happens Next?

The adoption itself must be registered, so that an adoption certificate will be issued.  The child will be able to obtain a copy of his original birth certificate when he is 18 years old and register himself on the Adoption Contact Register.

If you have any questions regarding adoption and the effect of an adoption order, please contact us by calling 01206 835320, emailing [email protected], or by using the enquiry form at the top of this page.

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Adoption FAQs

Who Can Adopt / Who Can Be Adopted

Who Can Adopt

To be able to adopt in the UK you must be:
A single person or a couple (whether married or in a civil partnership or not and whether of different gender or the same gender). In each case there are specific requirements which must be satisfied before an adoption order is made.

Adoption by a couple

Each of the applicant couple must have attained the age of 21 years (except where one is the mother or father of the child, in which case the parent must be over 18 years). There is no legal upper age limit for an adoptive parent, but adoption agencies will not usually place a child with adopters where the age gap between the child and the adopters is more than 45 years unless the child has special needs.

There is no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or against a couple who have chosen not to formalise their relationship through a marriage or civil partnership. But, it is important to understand that adoption agencies and courts will be concerned to ensure the couple’s relationship is committed (‘an enduring family relationship’) for the sake of the child’s stability. A couple wishing to adopt must be living together ‘as partners’. A couple of relatives living together are not considered as ‘a couple’.

An application for an adoption order may be made if one of the following two conditions is satisfied:

  1. At least one of the couple must be domiciled in a part of the British Islands;
  2. Both of the couple have been habitually resident in a part of the British Islands for a period of not less than one year ending with the date of the application.

Different considerations apply where a child is brought in to the UK for the purpose of achieving a UK adoption. The law relating to international adoptions is very complex, and specialist advice should be sought.

Where the child has not been placed for adoption by an adoption agency there is an additional requirement that the child must have his home with the adopters, or at least one of them, within England and Wales, for a specified period (between 10 weeks and 3 years, depending on the adopters’ connection with the child).

Adoption by one person

An adoption application (unless it is a Convention (international) application) may only be made by a sole applicant if either:

  1. He or she is domiciled in the British Islands;
  2. He or she has been habitually resident in the British Islands for a period of not less than one year ending with the date of the application.

An adoption order may be made on the application of one person if:

  1. He or she has attained the age of 21 years; and
  2. He or she is unmarried or, if married or in a civil partnership, the court is satisfied that:
    • His or her spouse/civil partner cannot be found; or
    • He or she has permanently separated from his spouse/civil partner; or
    • His or her spouse’s/civil partner’s physical or mental health is such that they are incapable of making an application for an order; or
  3. (unless the adoptive placement was made by an adoption agency) the child has his home with the applicant within England and Wales.

Adoption of a child by spouse/partner

A child’s step-parent may make an application for an adoption order on his own. He or she must satisfy the basic requirements (above).

A person who is the partner of the child’s parent is permitted to make an application to adopt on their own. On adoption, the child will be treated in law as being the child of the adopter (the non-parent partner) and the other partner (the birth parent).

In this case, the legal relationship between the child and the natural parent who is not the step-parent’s partner will be extinguished. If the other parent had a former established relationship with the child, or if the child objects, the courts show a reluctance to make step-parent adoption orders.

A married step-parent may now acquire parental responsibility by way of a parental responsibility agreement or parental responsibility order.

Should a relative wish to apply for an adoption order, the court may think a child arrangements order or special guardianship order is more appropriate as it maintains the family links, yet gives parental responsibility to the relative.

A natural parent

A natural parent may make a joint application with his or her spouse to adopt his or her own child. In this case, the age requirement is relaxed so that an adoption order may be made provided that the mother or father have reached the age of 18 and his or her spouse has attained the age of 21 years. Such an application is only likely to succeed where the identity of the child’s other birth parent is unknown or he or she has not played, nor wishes to play, a role in the child’s life.

The only lawful route for non-relatives to apply to adopt a child is through a local authority or adoption agency. Effectively, selection of prospective adopters is controlled by local authorities and the adoption agencies. They themselves have to follow national guidelines concerning age, health, and cultural requirements.

Any prospective adopters need to successfully complete an adoption assessment before they can adopt.

The law relating to international adoptions is complex and so we recommend you seek specific legal advice from one of our Family Law Specialists with regard to this areacall 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

 

Who Can Be Adopted

Only a person who is under the age of 18 years may have an adoption application made in respect of them, but an adoption order may be made after that age if the person is still under 19 years old.

Most adoptions relate to younger children, but, given the need to look to the child’s welfare throughout his lifetime, an adoption order for a late teenager may sometimes be appropriate.

Contact After Adoption

Over the last twenty years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to provide adopted children with a complete picture of their birth family, often by creation of a ‘life story book’ with words and pictures in appropriate terms, as well as a ‘later life letter’ which sets out details of the child’s natural family in more adult language.

There is no explicit provision for contact with the birth family after adoption. When making an adoption order, the court must consider whether there should be arrangements for allowing any person contact with the child, and for that purpose the court must consider any existing or proposed arrangements and obtain any views of the parties to the proceedings. If the court decides to make an order allowing contact, it will do so as a child arrangements order. If a parent wishes to have contact with a child they should make the application at the time of the adoption application if possible.

After an adoption order has been made the courts are very restrictive with contact applications and priority is given to the need to maintain the stability of the adoptive placement.  After an adoption order is made a parent can apply for contact under new provisions that have been made within the Children and Families Act 2014, amending the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Indirect contact may continue to take place after adoption, in the form of letters or reports sent once or twice a year (maybe with photos). Direct face-to-face contact is not usual, but if the child is older or if there are siblings meetings, it may take place. The benefit of this post-adoption contact taking place is that the child will have the benefit of awareness of his or her background as he grows older.

Adoption Contact Register

Once an adopted person reaches the age of 18 years old, he or she may enter their details into the first part of this register if they wish to facilitate reopening contact with the natural family.

This is a private register held by the Registrar General to assist those adopted people and their birth families who wish to express a view about future contact with each other. The register eases the practical problems involved in tracing relatives and anyone who is a birth family member of someone who has been adopted can have their name and current address entered on it at any time after the making of the adoption order and after the entry of the child’s name into the Adopted Children Register.

One part contains information provided by the adopted person about his wishes for having contact (or not) with his birth relatives.

The other part has information about any relative of the adopted person, by blood, half-blood, marriage, or civil partnership (but not adoption) who wishes to express a view about contact with the adopted person.

The Registrar General sends to the named adopted person in the first part, the name and address of any relative entered into the second part who has asked for contact.

In practise, few adopters will wish for regular face-to-face contact because of the need to provide security and stability for the child. Although courts have the power to order contact, they will often refuse to do so, even where the adopters have made an informal commitment to allow contact.

For more information, you should contact our Family Law Specialists who can provide you with advice and assistance on adoption procedures – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

Legal Help and Representation

Adoption has a number of important legal implications, and anyone involved in adoption proceedings should take legal advice as early as possible. These are court proceedings, and the confidential nature of the adoption procedure makes it all the more important to get legal representation simply to find out what is actually going on.

Where the parents have clearly indicated consent to adoption, legal representation may not strictly be necessary, and sometimes the adoption agency provides all the help that is needed to explain and help with the court procedure.

In contested proceedings (where there is no parental consent), legal representation is essential. It is doubtful that birth parents would qualify for Legal Aid but some local authorities will meet the cost of representing the adopters if they do not qualify for Legal Aid.

In either case, make sure the solicitor is a member of the Children Panel, who has been accredited to represent children and others in care and/or adoption cases.

If you have any further questions regarding the orders which courts can make within care proceedings and the help that Fisher Jones Greenwood can provide, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

Court Process

There are two routes by which an adoption agency, including a local authority, may be authorised to place a child for adoption:

  1. Placement with parental consent
  2. Placement under a placement order made by the Family Court

An application for adoption must be started in the Family Court in which the child is living. If the child is not in the country at the time of the application, it must be made in the High Court. If there have been any previous court cases (i.e. care proceedings) then the application should be made to the court which dealt with them last.

The court or adoption agency’s paramount consideration when coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child is the child’s welfare throughout his or her life. They must have regard, among other things to the adoption welfare checklist.

Consent

The process depends on whether or not the birth parents give their consent to the adoption. If they do, then that needs to be checked and the social work assessment is filed at court. Sometimes, the birth parents do not consent, but do not actively oppose. In that case, the procedure runs as below, subject to several variations:

1. Adopters complete and file application form

This is not an easy form to understand. Independent legal advice can be very helpful when completing this form, as many adoptions are delayed by mistakes over this form. If you wish for your identity to remain confidential, you should contact the court which can assign you a confidential serial number.

An adoption order application must be accompanied by supporting documentation and the required fee. Details of fees can be found on the Government website

2. Court appoints CAFCASS

The court may ask for an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) to be appointed to act as a children’s guardian, a children and family reporter, or a reporting officer.

A children’s guardian represents the child at court and provides a report of what they believe to be in the child’s best interests. A children and family reporter may be appointed by the court to make any necessary enquiries and prepare a report on the welfare of the child. A reporting officer is appointed if the parent or guardian has consented to adoption, and is present whilst the parent signs consent forms. If consent is not given, the reporter must attend court to explain way. All three officers (or it may be the same person) are required to aid the court with any information useful to the application.

3. Social Services file an assessment

This report, prepared by the local authority or adoption agency, provides a great deal of detail about the adopters, the children, their views, and case background to aid the court. The report is confidential, and so often is only read by the judge who may release it to the adopters only if they have a solicitor who may himself be required to pass on relevant points only. It is never released to the birth parents, who will therefore not know if there are problems over the adoption itself.

4. What happens if the birth parents change their mind

This starts a long investigation into the background and the grounds for dispensing with the birth parent’s consent. Normally, the child’s guardian will have been the guardian for the child during the care proceedings, if these took place. The guardian may decide to appoint a solicitor as well.

5. Adopters required to file statement of facts

At this point, it would be advisable for an adopter to seek legal advice and representation, preferably from a children’s panel solicitor. If it was known at the outset that the birth parents were unlikely to consent, then the statement of facts should have been prepared and filed with the adoption application.  Sometimes the local authority will prepare the statement of facts.

6. Guardian files report

The guardian’s report will be crucial information for the court. It may well be released to the adopters and birth parents only through solicitors and sometimes in part only. In many cases, especially where there is a care order and an approved adoption plan at that time, the guardian’s report will have important information about developments since the care order was made which is relevant to the court for dispensing with the parents’ consent.

7. First Directions Appointment

The guardian’s report is normally filed approximately four weeks after the application has been received. The judge will read the report and details of the hearing will be sent to all parties. At this hearing, the court will consider the application and make directions about matters, such as the timetable for filing reports; correction of documents; contested issues; additional parties; further directions; and, if possible, the date and place for the final hearing.

If the court decides to make an adoption order, it will do this at the final hearing. The judge will usually deal with the issue of dispensing with the birth family’s consent and, if this is dispensed with, proceedings will move to a final hearing.

There are few cases where the outcome could not be predicted. However, in many cases, the birth parents feel unable to consent to adoption, but do not seriously contest it.

Parents Consent

The court cannot make an adoption order without the consent of all those with parental responsibility or until the court decides to dispense with the parents consent, if they are unwilling or unable to provide this – this is called ‘dispensing with consent’.

The consent of the father without parental responsibility is not required within adoption proceedings. However, adoption agencies and local authorities must be careful to establish, where possible, the identity of the child’s father and, unless there are good reasons not to do so, notify him of the adoption application. The father then has an opportunity to apply for parental responsibility within the proceedings and oppose the making of the adoption order.

Where a court has been asked to dispense with consent, the applicant (the adopter) must give notice of the request to dispense with consent in the application form, or at any later stage file a written request setting out the reasons for the request, and must file a statement of facts setting out a summary of the history of the case and any other facts to satisfy the court of the grounds for dispensation.

An adoption order may only be made if the court is satisfied in the case of each parent or legal guardian of the child:

  1. That the parent or legal guardian consents to the making of the adoption order
    • Unconditionally; and
    • With full understanding of what is involved; or
  2. That the parent or legal guardian has given advance consent to adoption (and has not withdrawn consent) and does not oppose the making of the adoption order; or
  3. That the parent’s or legal guardian’s consent should be dispensed with under one or both of the two grounds:
    • The parent or legal guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent;
    • The welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.

The child’s welfare will be the paramount consideration in determining the issue of dispensing with parental consent. Therefore, the adoption welfare checklist must be applied in determining the consent issue.

For further information, contact our Family Law Specialists (by calling 01206 835320 or emailing [email protected]) who can provide you with advice and assistance on adoption procedures.

Alternatives to Adoption

Adoption is a serious matter. It will change the life of the child who is adopted permanently. Sometimes people think of adoption when they are only seeking to change the carer of the child: it may well be that if this is within the family, then adoption is not the best idea at all.

Long-Term Foster Care

Adoption may not be suitable for all children who are taken into care. Every child has a right to a secure home, and for people to look after him or her, but some children are unable to settle into another family who might adopt them.

There are children who are removed from their home because of abuse or neglect and in these cases, Social Services will first look for another possible member of the family to step in and care for the child. It may be that a care order, with the child fostered to grandparents or another family member, is the better outcome.

Special Guardianship Orders

Foster care sometimes does not provide the children with the sense of security that the child needs, and the carers themselves can often feel frustrated that they are not able to make decisions for a child in their care. Special guardianship orders were created to satisfy both these issues. Special guardianship orders create the long-term stability for the child by investing overriding parental responsibility with the carers, whilst still maintaining the legal bonds with the natural parents.

Some examples of where Special Guardianship may be preferred are when:

  • A family member does not want to fully adopt the child but wants to be able to have control of the day to day decisions about their welfare.
  • Adoption conflicts with the family’s religion or culture and with kinship care.

Child Arrangements Orders

Another option is to apply for an order for the child to live with a particular family member or other carer who will care for the child. This would automatically give the person caring for the child parental responsibility, allowing them to make decisions about the child and his future, in consultation with the birth parents.

Parental Responsibility Agreement or Order

With this agreement, the step-parent will share parental responsibility with the child’s parents. Importantly, the step-parent can make decisions that a parent with parental responsibility would be able to make.

If you have any further questions regarding the possible alternatives to adoption, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

Welfare Checklist

Whenever a court or adoption agency is coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child, the paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life.  The circumstances in which this paramount principle applies include those where the issue is whether or not to dispense with parental consent to placement and/or adoption.

The court or adoption agency must at all times bear in mind that, in general, any delay in coming to the decision is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare.

The court or adoption agency must also have regard, among other things, to the adoption ‘welfare checklist’:

  1. The child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding);
  2. The child’s particular needs;
  3. The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
  4. The child’s age, sex, background, and any of the child’s characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
  5. Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  6. The relationship which the child has with relatives and with any person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the question to be relevant including:
    • The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
    • The ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop and otherwise to meet the child’s needs;
    • The wishes and feelings of any of the child’s relatives or of any such person regarding the child.

The court or agency must always consider the whole range of powers available to it in the child’s case; and the court must not make any order unless it considers that making an order would be better for the child than not doing so.

For more information, you should contact our Family Law Specialists who can provide you with advice and assistance on adoption procedures – call 01206 835320, email [email protected] or make an enquiry via at the top of this page.

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