What is the Legal Process for Adopting a Child?

What is the Legal Process for Adopting a Child?

Adoption is a process in which parental responsibility for a child can be transferred from a birth parent to another adult (aged over 21), giving that adult legal and parental rights and responsibilities for the child. The process can sometimes be quite complex, with a need to ensure that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

Typically, the legal process for adopting a child will comprise of three distinct steps:

1. Applying for Adoption

It’s important to understand that there are a number of different types of adoption that an adult can apply for. The two primary forms of adoption are agency adoption, where an adult provides a home for a child through a local authority or regional adoption agency, and step parent adoption, where an adult takes over parental responsibility for their partner’s child or children in the event of marriage or common law partnership.

However, adoption is not the only option. There are three alternatives that are important to consider prior to making a legal application to adopt a child in the UK:

  • Parental responsibility order – This agreement enables both birth parents to retain parental rights for the child, with the proposed adopter sharing parental responsibility.
  • Child Arrangement – lived with order – This agreement enables the proposed adopter to share parental responsibility for a child they live with, although they will not have parental rights.
  • Fostering – This agreement provides parental rights for a child, often shared with the local authority and birth parents. It is usually a temporary arrangement.

Applications for adopting a step child can only be made if the child has lived with the applicant for a minimum of six months. The local authority must be told of plans to apply for step parent adoption at least three months prior to the application being made.

2. Assessment

All applicants will be required to pass a home visit and DBS check. Personal statements from friends or relatives may also be collected to ensure the best decision is being made. The process is similar for both agency adoptions and step child adoptions.

Depending on the type of adoption, it may be necessary to work with a social worker for a longer term assessment that’s used to determine suitability for adopting a child.

3. Transfer of Parental Rights

Following placement, a child must live with their new family for 10 weeks before an adoption order can be made to a family court. The adoption order is the final step in the process, transferring parental rights and responsibilities to the applicant. Once made, the child will have the same rights as any children born to the parent, and the General Register Office will issue an adoption certificate to replace the birth certificate. A fee is applicable for making an adoption order. The court can advise on these costs.

The entire process, from start to finish, can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year depending on the type of adoption. Checks can take two months from the time of initial application, followed by around four months of social worker assessment. However, it’s important to remember that some factors can delay the process.

Step parent adoptions can be delayed due to opposition from the other birth parents. Agency adoptions can be delayed if the parent is not quickly matched with a child.

Help & Support

National Legal Service specialises in complex family law, and regularly advises on matters relating to step parent adoption, parental responsibility agreements, residence orders, and other child arrangement orders. Our team can also step in to offer mediation services for separated families, helping to develop satisfactory solutions that are in the best interests of the child. Don’t hesitate to get in touch for help and support.

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