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Adopting a stepchild

This week is national adoption week 2023. This annual initiative is designed to raise awareness of adoption and its multi-faceted experiences.

As a family law firm, adoption is matter we support clients with often. And with over 1.1 million children in England and Wales estimated to live in a stepfamily, we’re often asked ‘how can I adopt my stepchild?’

When couples have children from a prior relationship that live with them, and the step-parents have full day-to-day responsibility for the care of the stepchildren, they may choose to formalise their connection with these children.

Adopting a stepchild is one way of doing this.

Here, Resolution accredited adoption specialist and Stowe Senior Associate, Lucy Birch, answers some stepchild adoption FAQs.

Is there a stepchild adoption assessment?

If you choose to adopt your stepchild, you will be assessed just as you would if going through a ‘closed adoption’ process using an adoption agency. This ensures that the decision reached is in the best interests of the child.

The assessment includes a report prepared by a social worker that includes information about you, your partner, the child, and the other birth parent.

This report will inform the court so they can choose whether to grant the stepchild adoption court order.

If your application is granted, you will then share parental responsibility for the child – alongside your spouse or partner.

When and how do you take on parental responsibility during step-parent adoption?

Successfully obtaining an adoption order from the court under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides the adoptive step-parent with parental responsibility for the child.

The legal implications of this order are far reaching. It’s worthwhile highlighting that when the stepchild adoption order is granted, parental responsibility of the other birth parent (bar the partner or spouse in step-parent adoption cases), and anyone else with parental responsibility for the child, are extinguished.

The legal significance of the adoption order is therefore great and careful consideration and advice needs to be taken when proceeding with stepchild adoption.

What does Parental Responsibility entail?

There is no legal checklist for what parental responsibility entails, however the law accepts that generally, it includes the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority which by law a parent of the child has in relation to the child and their property.

In practical terms this encompasses many things, such as decisions about schooling, medical treatment, or religious decisions for the child.

Having parental responsibility has a significant impact from a legal perspective, including the types of legal orders that you are able to apply to the court for and whether permission is required.

Importantly, if you have parental responsibility for a child, generally speaking you do not need permission to apply for a variety of orders under the children act.

Can you change your stepchild’s surname?

The application for an adoption order is called an A58 form and within the form you can specify what you would like the child’s new name to be recognised as on the adoption certificate.

Some people decide to change the child’s surname to reflect their new family set-up.

What are common issues of stepchild adoption safeguarding checks?

Many of the applications I have dealt with in the UK include adoptive parents who have lived in various other countries around the world. It is worth noting at the outset that upon being matched with a social worker to work with you during the adoption process, they are likely to carry out safeguarding checks not only in the UK but also in the other countries you have lived in to ensure there are no safeguarding risks to the child.

These checks can take a long time to conduct and conclude, particularly if the jurisdiction in question is notably inefficient at record keeping.

I therefore always advise parents to make enquiries about stepchild adoption at the earliest opportunity if they are considering applying for an adoption order.

Do we need the other birth parent’s consent?

Assuming the other birth parents has parental responsibility, the question of the other birth parent’s consent is a crucial aspect of stepchild adoption proceedings and will determine whether the proceedings are what we call “non-contested” or “contested”.

I always advise clients to make enquiries regarding the birth parents’ respective position at the earliest point, so that we can advise accordingly.

If the other birth parent does not give consent, it is necessary to prepare a statement of facts to accompany your stepchild adoption application detailing why the court should dispense with the birth parents’ consent.

The important things to note here are of course the attachment to the child in question, for example how often has the birth parent been in touch with that child?

I do warn clients that there is always a possibility that the other birth parent will make a cross application for a child arrangements order once they have been served with adoption proceedings.

If the other birth parent do not consent and a contested hearing is required, the court will hear evidence from all parties before they establish whether it’s right to remove the need for the other birth parent’s consent.

In all instances, the fundamental priority of the family court is the child’s welfare.

Related links

Step-parent adoption: Insight from a family lawyer

Who can adopt?

Stowe Guide: Adopting a Child

Get in touch

If you’re looking for advice regarding adopting a stepchild, please do contact our  Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers.

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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