If you or your partner have a child from a previous relationship, you may be considering how best to secure the childs legal position in your new family. New legislation has recognised that couples living together as well as married may wish to consider legally sharing all the responsibilities and rights of parents. One option can be achieved by adopting the child through the Courts.
Things to think about:
- Adoption is a very powerful, permanent Court Order and will remove all the rights of the Childs other birth parent. For this reason the Court will not grant an Order without being sure it is in the childs best interests
- An Adoption Order means that your child will be legally cut off from one of their parents as well as a large section of that parents wider family. Adoption will affect a childs right to inheritance.
- Anyone who has parental responsibility for the child will need to be consulted. Both birth parents (or Guardian) will need to give consent to the making of an Adoption Order, unless the Court dispenses with that consent. If the birth parent refuses to give consent the case will become contested, in this event the Court would appoint a Childrens Guardian to act independently on behalf of the child.
- Recent legislation has introduced new alternatives to adoption, which might provide the security that you are looking for (these are out lined later). You should give these serious consideration before deciding if adoption is the right alternative for you.
Applying to adopt
Proper regard will be given to the stability and permanence of your relationship. For this reason we would expect that you and you partner have been living together for two years.
You do not have to be married but may still choose to adopt as a couple.
The birth parent must be 18 years or older and the stepparent/partner must be at least 21 years of age to apply to adopt.
The child to be adopted must be unmarried and aged under 19 years, however the application must be made before the childs 18th birthday.
You must reside in the British Isles and have been habitually resident for at least a year prior to the application to adopt.
Notifying your Local Authority
Before applying to the Court, you must first contact the Adoption Service to tell them that you are going to make an application.
You need to give at least 3 months notice before applying to the Court.
The Adoption Service has to carry out an investigation of your circumstances. This will include getting references from the Criminal Records Bureau, the Child Protection Register, Health Department, Education Department (including your childs school) and the N.S.P.C.C. They will also need to contact the other birth parent and anyone else who may be affected by the application. The social worker will need to talk to you and the child, as well as any other birth children, even if they do not live with you.
A social worker will be required to provide a report to the Court on the suitability of the applicants and any other relevant matters. The report will include a recommendation about whether or not an Adoption Order should be granted. The Court will make the final decision.
An advantage of speaking to your Local Authority before you apply is that they can help you decide whether adoption is the right course for your family.
Following the 3 months notice period, you can make an adoption application to your local Magistrates Court or the County Court. If there is already any Order in force regarding your child (for example a Contact Order, Maintenance Order or Residence Order) you should make the application to the same Court.
The address for Oldham Magistrates Court is:
Oldham Magistrates Court
St Domingo Place
Oldham, OL1 1QE
Phone: 0161 620 2331
The address for the Manchester County Court is:
Manchester County Court
Courts of Justice
Manchester, M60 9DJ
Phone: 0161 954 1800
A fee is payable to the Court when you make the application and is not returnable. The Court will be able to advise you of the current fees.
Once the application is made to the Court the Local Authority will be ordered to submit a report by a given date.
Reporting Officer/Childrens Guardian
If the application is not contested, the Court will appoint a Reporting Officer whose role will be to ensure that those parents with parental responsibility have given their agreement freely and with an understanding of the implications. They will read the social workers report and meet birth parents with parental responsibility to witness their formal signed consent.
If the application is contested the Court will appoint a Childrens Guardian whose role will be to act on behalf of the child to promote their welfare throughout the Court proceedings. They will speak to the child, birth parents, applicant, social worker and any other person they consider relevant. They will prepare an independent report stating what the Guardian considers to be in the best interest of the childs welfare.
If the adoption application was originally made to the Magistrates Court then it is possible that it could be transferred to the County Court because it has become contested.
The Reporting Officer and Childrens Guardian are both employed by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).
Alternatives to partner/step parent adoption
Parental Responsibility Agreement/Order
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 came into force on 30th December 2005. This has introduced new options for partner / step parents. A Step-parent who is married or has entered into a Civil Partnership may obtain Parental Responsibility for a child. This can be by a formal agreement with the parent who is his or her partner and the other parent, if they have Parental Responsibility.
Parental Responsibility is defined by law as being all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his or her property.
Parental Responsibility with the other birth parent can be obtained by means of a written agreement. A Parental Responsibility Order is made by the Court and does not require the non-resident birth parents agreement, if it is seen to be in the best interests of the child.
You may have some anxiety about who will be responsible for your child should you die. You can make arrangements for this by appointing a Guardian.
A Guardian can be appointed by any parent with Parental Responsibility or by a Court.
The Court will want to know that you have considered a Residence Order. This Order states with whom a child should live and gives Parental Responsibility (P.R.) to that person. This would be shared with others who already have P.R.
Parental Responsibility provides you with the power to share in the decision making process about the child/rens future with those who have it.
A Residence Order usually ends when the child reaches 18 years of age.
Special Guardianship Order
Since the Adoption Act 2002, a Special Guardianship Order provides increased power to someone who will be sharing Parental Responsibility with others. Unlike an Adoption Order the child keeps the legal link to their birth parents. The Order would enable the applicant to override the wishes of others with Parental Responsibility if this was seen to be in the best interests of the child.
You can apply to the Court for Special Guardianship if:
- You are 18 years of age or older
- You are the childs Guardian
- You are a Local Authority Foster Carer and the child has lived with you for a year prior to the application
- You have obtained a Residence Order relating to the child, or the consent of everyone a Residence Order relates to
- You have obtained the Local Authoritys consent if the child is looked after by the Local Authority
- You have the consent of everyone with Parental Responsibility for the child
- You can apply as an individual or jointly with someone else or several other individuals
- The child has lived with you for 3 out of the last 5 years
How to apply for a Special Guardianship Order
You will need to notify the Local Authority in writing 3 months in advance of your application (unless you have the Courts permission to apply immediately because another party is already applying to adopt the child).
The Local Authority will then investigate your suitability to become the childs Special Guardian.
An application is then made to the Court and the Local Authority writes a report on your suitability.
The Court considers your application as well as the Local Authoritys report and then makes a decision.
Change of name
Your childs name can be changed by Deed Poll as long as everyone with Parental Responsibility is in agreement. You will need to see a Solicitor about this.
You should think carefully before changing a childs surname: If the child is old enough to know it, a change could be welcome or it could cause anger, confusion or embarrassment.