Adoption is an extremely old mechanism for a child to become part of a family other than that of his or her biological parents. Nowadays, it is one of a number of alternatives available to parents unable to conceive children, or else for parents who are able to meet the particular needs of children who cannot be brought up by their birth families.
The main source of law in England and Wales about adoption is the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002).
ACA 2002 says that an adoption application may be made by a single person or by a couple, so long as they meet particular conditions.
There is no upper age limit so as to disqualify a person from being able to ask for an adoption order. Nor are there any gender pre-conditions: a male may apply as a single person, a same-sex couple can apply as a couple, and so on.
Adopters do not have to be British citizens to be able to adopt here. Foreign nationals can adopt in the UK so long as they live here or have a legal connection (called domicile) to the UK.
An adoption order may only be made in relation to a child (that is, a person under 18) at the time the application is made.
So long as the application is made before the child is 18, an adoption order may be made at any time the child is still under 19.
Sometimes, a parents new partner wishes to adopt their children. These situations -stepparent adoptions – used to be common in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, however, with the focus firmly on what is in the childs interests, successful stepparent adoptions are very rare.
With stepparent situations, and with all proposed adoptions, a court will look at whether there are alternatives to adoption that are more appropriate. For example, it might be sufficient for a stepparent or a prospective adopter to acquire Parental Responsibility, obtain a Special Guardianship Order or obtain a Residence Order instead of an adoption order.
Increasingly, adoption cases involve countries other than the UK. This may be because:
International adoption involves family law issues in parallel with questions of criminal law and immigration practice. Failure to be aware of this complex interaction might have unexpected and disastrous consequences.
There are several international treaties, obligations and mechanisms for determining whether an adoption order made abroad is capable of being recognised in the UK. Some countries adoption orders will be automatically recognised here, whilst others will not be, and further court proceedings will be required to obtain recognition.
For more information about International Adoptions please see here.
A child who is adopted legally becomes a member of the new family. He or she stops legally being a member of his or her birth family. The adopter/s obtain parental responsibility for the child. Any person who had parental responsibility prior to the adoption order being made automatically loses it.
So, for all intents, the successful adoption process leads to the child becoming a permanent and full member of the new family.
A child who is not a British citizen will automatically become one if the adopter/s (or one of them) is British.