If you are a step-family and have a child from a previous relationship, you may be thinking about ways to clarify the legal rights and responsibilities that you and your partner have in relation to the children in your family.
We understand that you may want to share all the responsibilities and rights of parents - not just the day-to-day ones.
One way of sharing rights and responsibilities is for the step-parent to become the child's adoptive parent. When reaching your decision about applying to adopt, your child's views will need to be taken into account - both by the assessing Social Worker and by the court.
The law says that the child's wishes and feelings must be considered. It will depend on the child's age of course but children of 5 years and sometimes younger can be old enough to have some understanding of what adoption means.
It is also important that there has been sufficient time for your relationship with your partner to become established and for family bonds to be formed before you apply to adopt, as you will need to evidence a stable and enduring relationship together.
Adoption is a very serious matter in that once an Adoption Order is made, the law no longer recognises the other birth parent as having any parental links with the child. In addition, half-brothers and sisters, grandparents and other birth relatives on that parent's side are considered legally unrelated to the child.
With adoption the child's step-parent becomes the child's legal parent, sharing all the legal rights and responsibilities towards that child with the birth parent with whom the child resides and there can, accordingly, be serious implications for all concerned in the event of separation or divorce.
Some families employ a solicitor experienced in adoption to represent them in lodging and processing the application but this service is not always required and an initial discussion with us might help to clarify matters and prevent unnecessary expense.
Applying to adopt a step child
You must first, at least three months before applying to the court, inform your Local Authority by letter that you are going to make an application: this should contain all relevant factual and contact details.
Having lived with the child for at least six months, the step-parent of the child /children concerned can make an adoption application to the local Family Proceedings Court or to the County Court.
A fee is payable to the court (approx. £140) when you make the application and it is not refundable if you decide not to proceed.
If there is already a Court Order in force regarding your child, you should make the application to the same court.
An application form and guidance notes for applicants are available to download on Her Majesty's Court Service website. You will need to submit three copies of the A58 form.
We will then carry out an initial visit" to discuss the alternatives and to review your circumstances, to supply you with some relevant information and to ask you to complete Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) consent forms.
In undertaking our investigations and preparing a report for the court, all those involved - both of you, the child/children, the other parent, the grandparents etc - will be interviewed by a social worker and their views sought.
If a child's birth parent, usually the absent" parent, is opposed to an adoption order being granted, the court will usually appoint an Officer from CAFCASS (the Children's and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to investigate the consent issue and decide whether it should be over-ruled – in the child's interest.
The social worker will make a recommendation to the court regarding your application, but the court makes the final decision.
Change of name
If the child's birth parents were married to each other, the child's surname cannot be changed to that of the stepfather unless the birth father agrees or the court gives permission. A court is not usually keen to overrule the wishes of a birth father.
In any case, we would advise you to think carefully before changing a child's surname: if the child is old enough to know it, a change could be welcome or it could cause some confusion or embarrassment.
Alternatives to adoption for step-parents
Every family is unique and to avoid a one size fits all" approach you might like to consider some of the alternatives to adoption.
A step-parent may acquire "parental responsibility" for the child by a simple but formal agreement with the parent who is his or her partner, and the other/absent parent if he or she has parental responsibility, or by a Court Order.
This enables the step-parent to share parental responsibility with the child's parents. Importantly, it allows the step-parent to make decisions that a parent with parental responsibility would be able to make, but it does not cut the child off legally from one half of his or her birth family.
A Residence Order is rather like a custody order, provides parental responsibility to the applicant(s) and confirms the arrangements as to the person(s) with whom the child is to live: on occasion, a Contact Order (access) is granted at the same time specifying when and where the absent parent can see the child.
A Special Guardianship Order gives the special guardian legal parental responsibility for the child which is expected to last until the child is 18. But, unlike Adoption Orders, these orders do not remove parental responsibility from the child's birth parents.
Court contact information
- Pontypridd County Court can be contacted by telephone on 01443 490800 - please ask for someone dealing with adoption work.
If you would like any further information and advice about step parent adoption, please contact us on 01443 864527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.