Adoption is perhaps the most draconian of any family law Order. An Adoption Order vests the adopter with the legal rights (parental responsibility) of a natural parent in relation to the child in question. The Order also permanently revokes all parental rights held by any individual before the Order was made.
An application for adoption must be filed at Court before the subject child attains 18 years.
The aim underlying adoption is to provide a child with security and avoid the lack of continuity associated with long term foster care. Adoption is a radical remedy – and will not be used lightly or where an alternative private law remedy (such as a Residence Order) (see separate note) may be preferable.
In determining any application for an Adoption Order a Court must give paramount consideration to the welfare of the child and consider:-
- the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings in light of the child’s age
- the child’s needs
- the child’s age, sex, background and relevant characteristics
- any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- issues concerning the child’s relationship with existing relatives (including the stability, quality and likely permanence of such relationship)
- Entitlement to inheritance can be affected for example under Intestacy Rules. An adopted child ceases for this purposes to be a "child" of their biological parent and will be treated as a "child" of their adoptive parent.
Application for adoption may be made by single people or by a couple – including by relatives of the child such as a step parent.There are a number of pre-conditions to the making of an Adoption Order including:
- That the child’s parents consent to an Adoption Order or that the Court has directed that parental consent should be dispensed with (where for example a parent lacks mental capacity to give consent or where a Court concludes that promoting the child’s welfare overrides the desirability of parental consent)
- That the child must have lived with the prospective adopter for a minimum period (6 months for a natural parent, 12 months for a local authority foster parent or 3 years for any other class of applicant).
If a parent does not agree to a child being adopted a local authority may apply for a “Placement Order” – which most commonly occurs where a child is subject to a Care Order. A Placement Order has a number of important effects – but includes extinguishing the effect of any private law Children Act Orders and causes parental responsibility to be shared with the local authority. A guardian (social worker) will be appointed to represent the interests of the child to the Court within an application for a Placement Order.
Each local authority must establish a service to facilitate adoption – to assist children and prospective adopters. An adopted person aged 18 years or over may apply to have sight of their original birth certificate and they may apply via the adoption service for assistance in re-establishing contact with their natural parents.
If the Court ultimately grant an Adoption Order the effect includes:-
- The parental rights (responsibility) of the natural parents are extinguished
- The natural parent loses the entitlement as of right to apply for contact – but they may apply to the court to seek permission (leave) to apply for contact
- The duty of the natural parents to pay child maintenance ends.
The law of adoption is extremely complex. This can be no more than a brief outline.We are pleased to offer advice and representation within adoption applications. Legal aid is available.