At MyBump2Baby we understand in importance of supporting growing families by connecting them with trusted family law solicitors. Today we have an article from Rayden Solicitors about adopting a stepchild. We hope this article is useful and answers your questions around adoption. Please do feel free to contact Rayden solicitors here if you have any more questions.
Blended families are becoming increasingly common, which creates the need in some families for step-parent adoption. Often a step-parent takes on the day to day responsibility in respect of their partner’s child, but they have no rights, duties or responsibilities in law. In such circumstances, the step-parent may wish to consider step-parent adoption.
There are many reasons why a step-parent wants to adopt a step-child and these can include the wish to provide security for the child, to formalise the step-parent’s role in the child’s life (particularly when they have a day to day responsibility for the child) or to enable the child to have the same surname as the step-parent.
What is Stepparent adoption?
Step-parent adoption is when you acquire legal responsibility in respect of your partner’s child or children from a previous relationship, without impacting the legal relationship your partner has with their children. When a child is adopted, the child’s legal relationship with the other parent is dissolved, i.e. the other parent loses their parental responsibility and the child’s links with the other parent and their external family are lost. It is for this reason that adoption is not always suitable. Generally, one of the main reasons that astep-parent considers adoption is to acquire parental responsibility and it is important to therefore understand what parental responsibility is and how it can be acquired.
So who has parental responsibility and what does parental responsibility mean?
The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.
A mother automatically holds parental responsibility in respect of their child. If the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, the father will have parental responsibility. If the parents were not married at the time of the birth, but the father’s name is on the birth certificate and the child was born after 1 December 2003, then the father will have parental responsibility.
If a father’s name is not on the birth certificate, he can acquire parental responsibility by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or by getting a parental responsibility order from the Court. This also applies to a step-parent.
Practically speaking, when a step-parent is involved in the day to day care of a child, parental responsibility is necessary so that they can make medical decisions, liaise with the child’s school and so on.
Do I need to be married to my partner to apply for step-parent adoption?
You do not need to be married to your partner in order to apply for an adoption order. You do, however, need to demonstrate that you are in an enduring relationship with your partner, i.e. the child’s parent. You also need to be at least 21 years old, you must be either domiciled in the UK or be habitually resident in the UK for a year prior to your application and the child must have lived with you for at least 6 months prior to you making the application.
Can I adopt my stepchild without the other parent’s consent?
You will need the consent of all those holding parental responsibility in respect of the child. Even if the biological parent does not hold parental responsibility in respect of the child, it is good practice to give notice to the biological parent, as adoption is a draconian order and their legal rights in respect of the child will be lost. Even if the biological parent has been absent from the child’s life, you should take steps to locate them, as the Court will want to know that you have used your best endeavours to find the biological parent to inform them of your application before making an order. If a person who holds parental responsibility cannot be found, their consent can be dispensed with by the Court.
When deciding whether an adoption order should be made, the Court will consider what is in the best interests of the child.
What is the process of adopting my stepchild?
You need to give at least 3 months’ notice to your Local Authority of your intention to adopt before making your application to the Court. This will then prompt the Local Authority to prepare an Annex A report, which is a thorough investigation into the family and the reasons for the adoption.
If all parties agree to the adoption, the process should be relatively straightforward.
What rights would I have once I adopt my stepchild?
Once you have adopted a child, you will have the same rights as your partner – you will acquire parental responsibility for the child and you will become their legal parent forever. Even if you were to separate from your partner at a later stage, you will still be considered as the legal parent of the child and will remain responsible for the child in terms of maintenance and inheritance.
What alternatives are there to Step-Parent Adoption?
All families are different and whilst step-parent adoption may be right for one family, it may not necessarily be right for another. It is important to think carefully about the reasons as to why you want to adopt your step-child and seek legal advice at the outset to establish if step-parent adoption is the correct legal route to achieve your desired outcome.
Given the draconian nature of adoption and the fact that the other parent’s rights will be extinguished, step-parent adoption may not always be appropriate. If you want to acquire parental responsibility so that you can make decisions with regards to the child, such as medical or educational decisions, you could acquire parental responsibility by entering into a parental responsibility agreement or by applying to the Court for a parental responsibility order.
Another alternative to adoption is to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order, specifically, lives with order so that you acquire parental responsibility in respect of the child.
There are many options available and it is important to seek advice at the outset to establish which option best suits the needs of the child and your family.
Rayden Solicitors are family law specialists who can assist in relation to all aspects of family law. If you require legal advice about any of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Jennifer Moore, Senior Associate, Rayden Solicitors, Hampstead
Jennifer Moore joined Rayden Solicitors in 2015 and has a wealth of experience in all areas of private family law. She has particular expertise in dealing with cases involving children following the breakdown of a relationship, for example disputes as to where a child will live and how much time a child will spend with a parent. She can also advise on complicated matters involving adoption and children cases where there is a social services involvement.
Jennifer also has also dealt with many cases that have an international angle, and as well as children matters, also specialises in complex financial disputes arising out of divorce and separation.
Jennifer is a young mother having recently returned to work and her empathy as a young mother is particularly evident in the cases involving children. She recognises that each client’s circumstances are different and unique to them and her warmth and sensitivity is underpinned with a practical, calm and pragmatic approach to matters in order to achieve an outcome which prioritises a client’s individual objective and provides a long term solution.