Considering adoption – the legal points and processes involved

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Deciding whether to adopt a child is momentous, both for the child concerned and you as their adoptive parent. An Adoption Order extinguishes ties with a natural parent and his or her relations and is therefore a “draconian” step. Not least in terms of importance are the legal considerations and the application process involved. Here are some points to keep in mind before you go ahead.

To qualify for adoption, the person being adopted must be under the age of 18. They must not be or ever have been married, or in a civil partnership.

In total, 3,440 “looked after” children were adopted in the year ending 31 March 2020.

Both birth parents must usually consent to the adoption, unless they cannot be found or are incapable of providing consent, or the child would be placed at risk if they were not adopted.

You can legally adopt a child in the UK if you are aged 21 or over and:

  • Single
  • Married/in a civil partnership
  • An unmarried couple (including same sex)
  • The partner of the birth parent

It is not a formal requirement to be a British citizen, but the individual/couple must have a fixed permanent home in the UK and have lived here for at least one year before commencing the application process.

The application process

Firstly, applicants should contact the Children’s Services department of their Local Authority, to notify them of their intentions to seek an adoption order. The Adoption Service (often via the Local Authority) then prepare an assessment report on the child, the parents, the overall circumstances, and the position regarding any other persons with a right to be heard, which is often the other parent who has died or is untraceable. Alternatively, the other parent may not have parental responsibility or may not even know of the child. Sometimes there is reason to refrain from contacting that person, particularly if domestic violence or other abuse has occurred.

The following information is also considered:

  • The child’s legal status and who holds parental responsibility
  • The progress of any care proceedings and whether any hearings are listed
  • Any expert assessments undertaken and any potential gaps relating to such assessment reports
  • The exploration of family and friends. Who has been put forward? Have the options in the family been exhausted?
  • The situation regarding any siblings. Will there be a separation from any siblings (half or full)?
  • The child’s characteristics that may make adoption not a realistic option. Does the child suffer from any illness or disability? Does the child exhibit difficult or challenging behaviour?

The Adoption Service reports on the suitability of the applicant(s) also by way of obtaining references. Police checks and medical examinations are also conducted which will assess the Applicant’s physical capacity to provide basic elements of care and to stimulate a child. It will also assess the Applicant’s emotional availability to meet the child’s emotional needs. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is usually involved in this part of the process.

There will always be at least two Hearings. The first will consider the Application and make directions within four weeks of Application. The second will consider the results of the reports and other investigations. If a child’s Guardian has been appointed, their report is given the same consideration as the Adoption Services report.  Sometimes, an Order is made immediately but more often further action is required and a later final Hearing follows.

The process starts with an Application in Form A58 (three copies) and a supporting Statement setting out facts and circumstances, together with reasons for seeking adoption (two copies) plus a copy birth certificate, copies of any relevant Orders, copies of relevant certificates of marriage etc, and a medical report on each child and each party applying. There is a fee of £183 covering the process.

Throughout, the child’s welfare is of paramount importance, overriding anything else, and the Court must consider the welfare of the child on a long-term basis, as adoption extinguishes all legal rights of the parents.

For more information on any of the above, please contact a member of our Family team.