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Adopting a step-child or partner's child

1. Adopting a step-child or partner's child

Families come in all shapes and sizes, as new relationships form it is not uncommon for a parent to want to share some parental responsibility. If you are unsure, you can find out what parental responsibility means. There is more than one way to do this but adoption is often seen as a way to get parental responsibility; it is often not the best way.

The easiest way to give your new partner or another member of the family parental responsibility is by completing a parental responsibility agreement. This works well where everyone with parental responsibility agrees to share it with another adult. 

Where those with parental responsibility cannot agree then you may need the assistance of the court to get parental responsibility extended to your new partner or other. A Child Arrangement Order gives your partner or other parental responsibility of the child up to the age of 16 years. (18 years if the child has disabilities). This is of a sufficient level to carry out the day to day tasks of parenting. This is quicker than adoption and is sufficient, in our view, for the majority of families. This is dealt with by the court and usually does not require involvement from social services, you can find the relevant information on Child Arrangement Orders.

For those parents wishing to change a child surname, adoption is not required and this can be achieved via a change of name

We advise you to fully explore the options above prior to considering adoption; they are quicker, easier and in our view, often more suitable than applying for an adoption order. By law you are required to notify the local authority in writing 16 weeks prior to applying to the court for an adoption order.

Adoption orders and how they are different from other orders

An adoption order takes away the legal relationship between the non-resident parent and the child. This is includes the extended family of the non-resident parent, this means Granny is no longer Granny etc. It also creates a new legal relationship between the adopter and this child which make the adopter a full legal parent of the child for the rest of their lives. Similarly new legal relationships are created in the adopter’s extended family.  Also should you end your relationship with your partner (step-parent) the adoption means they continue to be the full legal parent to that child with as many rights as you have. Adoption doesn’t end because your relationship does

A Child Arrangement Order and, a Parental Responsibility Agreement, also creates new legal relationships but do not extinguish the legal role of the absent birth parent nor their family.

Adoption orders require a full and thorough social work assessment of your family and consultation with the non-resident parent. This means that you can expect a full check of your suitability to adopt including a criminal record check. A social worker will, visit your home on a number of occasions, speak to all children involved, other family members and the non-resident parent. The social workers role is to make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the child’s best interest; they may or may not recommend adoption.

Downloads

 

Frequently asked questions about adoption by step parents or relatives

But I have decided that adoption is right for my child, isn’t that enough?

No. Adoption is not a decision for parents it is one for the court; simply deciding you want your child to be adopted by your new partner is not enough in law. The law is clear; an adoption order will only be made where it is the best interest of a child to do so. This means that you could apply for adoption order but the court may decide that another legal order or no order at all.

Many adults tend to forget that adoption is about what is best for the child. What adults want is relevant, but the Court will prioritise the welfare of the child when it makes its decision. Just because, you have married a new partner or, because you see it as a nice thing to do, is not enough

Do I have to get the absent parent’s agreement to the adoption?

If the absent parent is the mother: You will need her agreement. A court can dispense with the need for her agreement but there have to be very good reasons for them to do so.

If the absent parent is the father and he was married to the child’s mother: You will need his agreement. A court can dispense with the need for his agreement but there will have to be very good reasons for them to do so.

If the absent parent is the father and he was not married to the mother but has Parental Responsibility: You will need his agreement. A court can dispense with his agreement but there will have to be very good reasons for them to do so.

Will the other parent have to be involved?

Irrespective of the birth parents legal status, the court will require a report to be completed and wherever possible will find out the views of both birth parents including what role they might intend to play in the child’s life. This can also include extended family members who have, or would like to have a relationship with the child. Your current relationship with him or her, or the amount of contact they have with the child will not remove the responsibility for finding out their views, and reporting them back to the Court.

Do I have to be married to my partner to adopt their child?

No. You do not have to be married to adopt the children of your partner. We will be unlikely to consider relationships that have lasted for less than two years suitable. Equally if you are in the process of divorcing the absent parent then this should be completed prior to considering adoption

Do I need a solicitor?

You may find some legal advice helpful but a solicitor is not normally needed for an application by a step parent unless the adoption is opposed or there are complicated issues; but you have the right to have a solicitor if you wish.

Further information

If you still consider that adoption may be in the best interests of the child then ask the applicant (the person who wants to adopt) to please call 01494 58 66 26, for an informal discussion of your family’s circumstances with our duty social worker.

2. Special Guardianship orders

A Special Guardianship Order or Residence Order is a legal way for someone with whom the child has a relationship, other than a birth parent, to provide that child or young person with a secure, loving family when their own parent cannot.

Special Guardianship Orders

If a child needs to live permanently away from their parents and the carer would like to make major decisions on behalf of the child, similar to those with an adoption order, but everyone agrees that links with their birth parents should continue, then a Special Guardianship Order can be applied for. This will restrict the birth parents rights but will not permanently end the relationship.

This could be because:

  • The child could be at risk of going into care and a friend or relative wants to care for the child
  • The child may have been in care and their foster parents, relative or friend wants to care for the child
  • Parents may have died and there is a prior agreement with the birth parents that the relative or friend takes over the child’s care
  • Some minority ethnic communities have religious and cultural difficulties with adoption
  • Older children and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may need secure permanent homes but still have strong attachments to their families

 You can apply for a Special Guardianship Order if:

  • you are over 18 and not the parent of the child
  • you are the guardian of the child
  • you are a local authority foster carer and the child has lived with you for at least one year preceding the application
  • you hold a Residence Order for the child (or has consent from all of those who would benefit from a residence order is in place)
  • the child has lived with you for three out of the last five years, if you have the approval of the local authority, where the child is in the local authorities care
  • you have consent from all who have parental responsibility for the child
  • you are a relative of the child and they have lived with you for at least the last year
  • you have the leave of the court

What this means

  • Where the law requires the consent of more than one person with parental responsibility e.g. sterilisation
  • Agreement to adopt
  • Taking the child out of the country for more than 3 months without the courts permission
  • Changing the child’s name without the courts permission
  • A basic legal link will remain with the parents who will still legally be their parents.

Unlike adoption orders, Special Guardianship orders can be varied or discharged by the court and the court can step in where there are disputes over a Special Guardian exercising their parental responsibility.

We will provide you with support and services including financial support. You can claim child benefit or child tax credit if it is not being paid to the parent.

As a Special Guardian you will have parental responsibility for the child until they are 18 unless discharged earlier by the court. You will be able to make all day to day decisions and caring for the child and their upbringing.

There are a few exceptions:

Residence Orders

A Residence Order is a court order which decides where and with whom a child should live.

This could be because:

  • The child could be at risk of going into care and a friend or relative wants to care for the child
  • The child may have been in care and their foster parents, relative or friend wants to care for the child
  • Parents may have died and there is a prior agreement with the birth parents that the relative or friend takes over the child’s care

You can make an application for a Residence Order if:

  • you are a parent
  • you are a guardian
  • you are a step-parent (by marriage or civil partnership) who has treated the child as part of your family
  • you have the consent of all those with parental responsibility
  • you have the consent of the local authority, if the child is in care
  • you have the consent of those who already have a Residence Order for the child
  • you are a relative and the child has been living with you for one year, immediately before the application
  • the child has lived with you for at least 3 years
  • you are a local authority foster carer and the child has lived with you for at least 1 year immediately before the application

What this means

The Residence Order gives Parental Responsibility to that person for as long as the order is in place. This includes being responsible for the care and well being of the child and also being able to make important decisions for them including consent to medical or dental treatment and school trips.

Parents or those with parental responsibility have a right to apply to revoke a Residence Order.

Parents who have parental responsibility will retain this responsibility. They should be able to have a say in major decisions about the upbringing of the child e.g. religion, which school a child attends and non-emergency medical treatment. They are entitled to attend school meetings and obtain school records e.g. school reports.

The child cannot be removed unless the Residence Order is revoked or the local authority obtains an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order.