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.

Who may adopt?

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.

Who may be adopted?

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.

Stepparent adoptions

Sometimes, a parent’s 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 child’s 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.

International adoptions

Increasingly, adoption cases involve countries other than the UK. This may be because:

  • a British adopter adopts a child abroad;
  • a British adopter seeks to bring a child from abroad to the UK to be adopted here, or
  • a foreign adopter has adopted a child overseas already and brings him or her to the UK.

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.

The effects of an adoption order

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.

How we can help?

  • Advise generally those considering adoption and whether adoption is suitable;
  • Represent prospective adoptive parents in proceedings for an adoption order;
  • Advise those considering international adoption on general nationality and immigration issues that may arise in the process;
  • Advise on the appropriate visa application, if relevant, in cases of international adoption;
  • Assist with applications for a British passport, British citizenship or a UK visa in cases of international adoption;
  • Represent parents in proceedings here to have recognised an adoption order made overseas;
  • Act in proceedings for permission to remove a child from the UK for the purposes of adoption abroad;
  • Provide written opinions and advices for those living abroad seeking to adopt in their countries of residence about whether and how UK adoption law applies to them.

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