Adoption is a way of providing a new family for those who cannot be brought up by their own parents and the means of giving them an opportunity to start again.
Child adoption makes a child legally the child of new parents and the child becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name. The birth parents no longer have any legal connection with the child, and normally the only contact that is preserved is in the form of a yearly written report on progress.
The Adoption Process – Legal Process
The child adoption process is a legal process in which parental responsibility is transferred from whoever currently holds parental responsibility to the adopters. Once an adoption order has been granted it cannot be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances. A court cannot make an adoption order until the child has lived with the adopters for at least 13 weeks. This period does not start until the child is six weeks old, so no order is ever made before a child is 19 weeks old. If it is likely that the birth parents will agree to an adoption order, the court appoints a Reporting Officer, who checks that the birth parents understand what adoption is about and witnesses their agreement to the adoption order being made.
If the birth parents do not agree to adoption the court will appoint a Children's Guardian to advise the court whether such an order would be in the child's best interests. Step-parents can apply to jointly adopt a child with one of the child's natural parents. Notice has to be given to the local social service department who will provide a detailed report for the court and a recommendation as to whether there are any issues that need to be addressed before an adoption order is made or which might make adoption an unsuitable option. The application form is complex and needs to be completed carefully and fully.
Restrictions On Who Can Be Adopted
To be eligible for adoption the child must be under the age of 18 years. A child who is married or has been married cannot be adopted.
Adoption for Step-parents, Unmarried Couples and Same Sex Couples
Thanks to the amendments to the adoption law, which came into force at the beginning of 2006, step-parents, unmarried couples and same-sex couples, can now apply to adopt a child within their household. This represents the most important overhaul of adoption law in more than 25 years, and is a move in the right direction.
Until now adoption orders were made only in favour of married couples, single parents or one partner in an unmarried or same sex couple; but the new law now means that unmarried couples or same sex couples can make their own applications to adopt their step-child. Upon the making of an adoption order the adopted child is treated legally as if it were born to the adopter and the adopters acquire parental responsibility for the child.
A step-parent can obtain parental responsibility for a step-child by agreement with the natural parents, who already have parental responsibility, or by court order. They can acquire all the legal rights and responsibilities for their step-child, and share parental responsibility with their spouse.
This does not remove parental responsibility from the other birth parent(s), if they already have it, unless it has been done by a court order.
Step-parents can still apply to court for a residence order in respect of their step-child and obtain parental responsibility that way.
Who Can Adopt?
Anyone over 21 years old can apply for child adoption as long as they can provide a loving, permanent, stable and caring home and has been assessed as capable of meeting the child's needs. A person cannot be disqualified by reason of disability, single / married / unmarried status, employed or unemployed, whatever race, religion, or sexuality, and there is no upper age limit.
The child adoption process is a complex process and has huge implications for all concerned. It is important to get it right and to find out all of the pros and cons before proceeding.
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