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Who can adopt?

This week is national adoption week, and this year’s aim is to dispel misconceptions about who is, or is not, eligible to adopt. Stowe Adoption Lawyer Lucy Birch explains more:

Challenging discrimination

There have been a number of cases surrounding adoption and the restrictions that some adoption agencies have attempted to place on who exactly is able to adopt/foster care.

An example is a case that was before the High Court in relation to an an independent foster agency whose policies allowed only heterosexual evangelical Christians as potential foster carers. Ofsted had concluded that the foster agency’s policies breached the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 and required the agency not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. The Court of Appeal agreed that the policy was unlawful discrimination and the foster agency’s appeal was dismissed.

So, who can adopt?

The law in England and Wales says that the following people CAN apply to the court to adopt a child/children:-

  1. Single people
  2. Married couples or civil partnerships applying jointly, whether of opposite sexes or the same sex
  3. Unmarried couples applying jointly, whether of opposite sexes or the same sex
  4. Step-Parents
  5. Foster carers
  6. The partner of the child’s parent

You CAN apply to adopt in the UK if:

  • Over 21 (there is no upper age limit)
  • Married, living together, in a civil partnership, opposite-sex couple, same-sex couple or single
  • Employed or on benefits
  • Any ethnic or religious background
  • Have children or not
  • Own your home or live in rented
  • Already adopted a child
  • If you are disabled
  • You are not a British citizen (although you must have a fixed and permanent home here and have lived here for at least a year before you begin the application process)

You CANNOT adopt if:

  • You, or an adult member of your family, have been convicted of a serious offence; for example, a crime committed against a child.

Relationship matters

For any couple to be considered as adoptive parents (married or unmarried) they must prove they have a stable and lasting relationship and that they can provide a loving family environment for a child.

This is set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and established via a combination of assessments including meetings with your social worker, personal references from friends and family, and completion of a series of preparation classes.

Can I adopt if I’m under 21?

The Act also sets out further conditions for prospective adopters in relation to age.

An adoption order may be made on the application of a couple where both have attained the age of 21 years. Or alternatively, on the application of a couple where one of the couple is the mother or the father of the person to be adopted and has attained the age of 18 years, and the other has attained the age of 21 years.

Living with adopted children

There are also residence requirements. In the majority of cases, the child must have had their home with the prospective adopter for a minimum duration of time before the application being made. The duration depends on the route to adoption. They are as follows:-

  • Local authority foster parents: The child must have lived with the adoptive parent(s) for the period of one year preceding the application. Although they can request permission from the court to apply within a shorter period.
  • Step-parent adoption: The child must have lived with the adoptive parent(s) for the period of six months preceding the application.
  • Partner of the child’s parent: the child must have had his/her home with them for at least three years preceding the application.

The Legal process

Once these conditions have been met, the legal process can begin.

If you have chosen to move forward with adoption, the first step in the process is to notify the Local Authority of your intention to adopt and apply to the court for an Adoption order. This must be done in writing. The court application Form (Form A58) can be completed and sent to the court no earlier than 3 months after the date the Local Authority were notified of your intention to adopt. The legal proceedings will then be underway.

For advice on the next steps in this process, contact Stowe’s specialist Adoption solicitors.

Alternatives to adoption

Finally, it should be noted that Adoption extinguishes the parental responsibility of the birth parents, therefore the court has to be satisfied that such a permanent step is in the best interests of the child.

There may be other legal routes that are more appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the case. Such as a:

  • Parental responsibility agreement
  • Child arrangement order
  • Special guardianship order

The exploration of these various routes require expert legal advice.

If you’re considering adoption, or have begun your application to adopt, and would like to find out more you can contact Stowe’s specialist Adoption solicitors.

Useful Links

Download our guide to adopting a child PDF

Stowe Family Law’s Adoption Services

Blog: The Adoption Process

Blog: Step-parent adoption

A recommended lawyer in the Legal 500, I advise clients on divorce and separation with a focus on complex private children disputes. Empathetic and down to earth, I am credited for my attention to detail and strategic thinking.

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