Is adult adoption a good idea?

Children|March 8th 2018

Sometimes an idea comes at you from left-field, being something that had never occurred to you previously.

I may be wrong, but I cannot recall ever previously hearing of, or considering the idea of, adults being adopted. However that is just the idea that I came across the other day in a story in the Scottish newspaper The Herald. The story reports that a campaigner is pressing members of the Scottish Parliament to change the law to allow ‘parents’ to adopt adults.

Under the law in both Scotland and England only a child can be adopted – i.e. someone under the age of 18. However, the campaigner, who is 27 years old, wishes to be adopted by his stepfather. The circumstances behind this are that the campaigner never knew his biological father and was raised by his stepfather (and his mother) from the age of 13. His mother and stepfather were married when he was 16. Obviously very close to his stepfather, when he was in his late teens he apparently looked into the possibility of being adopted by him, only to discover that it was too late as he was over 18.

The obvious question is: what difference would it make if he were adopted? Well, apart from the emotional effect of recognising the connection between parent and child, three perhaps more ‘concrete’ reasons are given by the campaigner. Firstly, the transfer of inheritance rights on intestacy – adopted children are treated the same as biological children, and so can inherit from an adoptive parent. Secondly, “restoring an original relationship between adult adoptees and their biological family”, by which I take to mean that the child is adopted by their biological parent, having previously been adopted by someone else. The third reason is the obvious one of formalising the relationship of a stepchild and their step parent.

And despite my previous ignorance, adult adoption is something that apparently already exists in several other countries, including the US, Canada, Germany and Japan. I haven’t made any study of how it operates in those countries, although I understand that in Germany, for example, there are rules designed to prevent its misuse.

Okay, so what are my thoughts on adult adoption?

Well, as to those three reasons for adult adoption, the first one seems to me to be the most significant, certainly from a legal point of view. I understand that in Japan, for example, adult adoption is used as a way to make sure family businesses survive when there are no heirs to take over. However, two obvious points strike me: firstly, that there should be appropriate safeguards to prevent the process being abused by the adopted ‘child’, in order to gain an inheritance. Secondly, the situation could of course simply be resolved by the parent making a will in which they leave an inheritance to the child.

As to the second reason, a similar result could of course be achieved by revoking the adoption order, thus restoring the legal relationship between the child and its biological parent. Although it is extremely rare, an adoption order can be revoked. Back in 2015, for example, Mrs. Justice Pauffley revoked an adoption order more than 10 years after it was made. However, she made it quite clear that such revocation should only be granted in exceptional circumstances, as adoption is intended to be final. Whether the need to ‘restore’ a biological relationship (perhaps alongside the breakdown of the relationship between the child and its adoptive parents) would be sufficiently exceptional to warrant revocation, I could not say. Still, the possibility is there in existing law, without the need for an adult adoption.

To conclude, I’m not really sure that adult adoption is necessary, at least from a legal point of view. As we have seen, similar results can already be achieved using existing laws. On the other hand, is there any harm in it, provided there are appropriate safeguards? The answer to this may well be no, although somehow I can’t see the government (at least in Westminster) finding time for such a reform any time soon.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Ayse Robson says:

    Is adult adoption a good idea? What do you think about inter country adult adoption cases then? Thank you.

    • Lewis says:

      yes i do as i don’t like my real parents as all things they lied about and put me inti care ar age off 8 im now 18 i still dont spesk to them i been moved around alot and now ive been with the parents i want to adopt me for 3 yeah and i just thought i wanted to get adopted but by then it was to late i turned 18 so i think adoption should be legal in the uk

    • Shauni Weeds says:

      I am 18 years old, I have a 3 month old little boy and loving fiance. My mum passed away last year just after my 17th birthday after a short but nasty battle with cancer. Me and my mum never had a great relationship growing up but it was good enough and looking back now i think it was just a teenager rebelling. Since then her best friend and partner (who is also my biological fathers brother, he isnt on the birth cert and has, nor wants any parental rights) have taken me under their wing as there daughter, they were never able to have any children so I have become the daughter they never had.

      Recently we have all decided that we would like for them to adopt me, which makes my family official and means I am not left alone. After looking into adult adoption I have discovered that it is not possible to do in the UK.

      For this law to be changed would mean the world to me, and my adoptive parents.

      Not only for inheritance purposes but it means that if the worst was to happen Im able to make important decisions on their behalf’s and even better it means my only little bit of family would finally be official.

    • Michele says:

      I would like to think that legislation will change eventually in Scotland.
      Although my step dad isn’t my biological father, i wouldn’t see him as anything else but my dad. My step dad married my mum when i was 12. I had no relationship with biological father and never seen him either. My step dad has always known me as his daughter and always reminded me that I’m loved very much. Even when my mum and step dad had a child together he treated me and my step brother exactly the same. I’m now 36 and my mum had been on at me for a while to maybe look into adoption or change my last name to the same as her, step dad and brother. Unfortunately my mum passed away suddenly 2 months ago and all i have left is my step dad and brother. For many reasons i would like to be adopted to have last name as them, it was something my mum wanted before she had passed and also if my step dad passes away, if he has no will in place i would not be entitled to anything especially since he has inherited quite a bit from my mum passing away. Not to do with money but if my step dad passed away my step brother would not be able to cope dealing with everything on his own as he has learning difficulties and would like it if we are able to do together.

  2. MWebb says:

    Dear Stowe.

    Thank you for your article, I am a literal case of an adult adoption, I’ve always had just one father but he was never on my birth certificate I am from South American origin and so is my mother and my father is British born and raised, I grew up with just my mom’s name on my birth certificate and it was only as an adult that I started to fill the need to have that gap filled, we went through a long judicial process abroad, the process was finilised a few years after we started dealing with it and my dad’s name was finally and at last included on my birth certificate and in all my documents but I have been living in another european country and the uk has been treating my like a fifth class citizen, dogs and cats have more rights than I do, my grand father passed away and I was refused entry totally and completely disturbing, something that is hard to forgive and that it can break anyone to pieces.

    I just wanted to add the humanity that is missing in your article things that a lot of us take for granted but it becomes extremely important someone who never had it, such as having a Sunday’s roast at dad’s, going to a game with your old man, looking after and carrying for someone and that feeling being mutual from both parties, ask anyone who’s never had a dad if a change and circumstances appeared for them to have one if they would mind. Deep inside there will be always that void, of course it is much better to fill it whilst you’re still young, sometimes it was already filled but it just needed that last touch which is the recognition in the eyes of the law.

  3. Mrs V Smith says:

    Can you get an adult adoption done in another country if you are both uk citizens and still be legal in the uk?

    • Kate Nestor says:

      Thanks for your query I have passed your details to the Client Care Team who will be in touch. Regards,

      • Jessica Williamson says:

        I would also like the answer to this question above please
        “Can you get an adult adoption done in another country if you are both uk citizens and still be legal in the uk”

  4. Mr f says:

    Hi can you adopt an adult how live illegall in uk if the couple is both British citizens

  5. GC says:

    Only just come across this article. I got together with my wife in 2000 and we married in 2002.
    We both had one daughter from our previous marriages. My step-daughter has always lived with us, she was three in 2000, we have always had a fabulous relationship.
    Her biological dad lived locally and kept contact, we were all on good terms, he was a nice man, it just didn’t work between him and my wife.
    Sadly, her dad died in 2017.
    I would really love to adopt her but, now she’s an adult, I can’t. It would be more of a symbolic thing than anything relating to legal matters.
    It isn’t legal in the UK and I really can’t see any reason why this should be the case.

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