With many parents and children living in blended families, a question that will often arise is whether legal steps should be taken by a step parent to adopt the child of their partner/spouse or civil partner.
When I have been approached about this matter in my own practise, the motivation of the step parent for wanting to take these steps has always been child centred and has revolved around providing the child with security and stability.
Common reasons are:-
- To make the child feel included and part of the family
- For the child to have the same surname as the rest of the family and accordingly give them a sense of belonging
- To ensure that the child can inherit from the step parent in the event of his/her death
- To enable the step parent to be involved in decision making regarding the child’s welfare, for e.g. re their health and education
Adoption is a huge legal step
However, adoption is a huge legal step and not one that should be taken lightly. Accordingly, before deciding on whether this is indeed the best option, there are a number of considerations that require to be made. One of the most important is how the child feels about being adopted.
In terms of the Adoption and Children (S) Act 2007 an adoption order cannot be made in relation to a child who is over the age of 12 unless s/he consents (unless they are incapable of doing so) and even a child of under 12 must be given the opportunity to express their views on the adoption if they wish to do so and that view will be factored into the court’s decision though will not necessarily be made known to any other party involved in the adoption process.
Where there is no other parent with parental rights and responsibilities (other than the step parent’s partner/spouse/civil partner) and a child is positive about being adopted by a step parent, then the process should be relatively straightforward provided the local authority and curator ad litem/reporting officer reports that require to be submitted to the court are positive. The social work report will set out their detailed investigations into the suitability of the adoption, including :-
(a) details of the family circumstances of the child;
(b) an account of the discussion with the parents or guardians of the child and, if appropriate, with the child about their wishes and the alternatives to adoption;
(c) the position of other relatives or people likely to be involved;
(d) the ability of the step parent to bring up the child including an assessment of the personality of the step parent and, where appropriate, that of the child;
(e) particulars of all members of the household of the step parent and their relationship to the step parent;
(f) a description of the accommodation in the home of the step parent;
(g) whether the step parent understands the nature and effect of an adoption order and in particular that the order, if made, will make the step parent responsible for the maintenance and upbringing of the child;
(h) any considerations arising from the difference in age between the step parent and the child if this is more or less than the normal difference in age between parents and children;
(i) whether adoption is likely to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child throughout his or her life;
(j) Whether the step parent stands to benefit financially in any way from the adoption of the child
The curator and reporting officer (usually the same person) also has to produce a report confirming his/her views on the suitability of the adoption and will deal with many of the same issues that are canvassed in the social work report. In particular, the curator has to establish the reasons the step parent wishes to adopt the child, that s/he has appropriate financial means to raise the child and if the child wishes to give a view.
Step parent adoption where there is another party with parental rights and responsibilities
Matters may be more complicated if there is another party who has parental rights and responsibilities, such as a natural parent, in relation to the child, as the adoption will sever that tie. Accordingly, if the child has an ongoing relationship with that other parent it is highly unlikely that adoption will be the suitable legal process for the step parent to provide legal security to their step child.
For step parents in this situation there are, however, other legal parental rights and responsibilities orders which can be obtained from the court provided that they are in the best interests of the child and provided that it would be better for these orders to be made than not.
A step parent in this situation can also ensure that their step child inherits in the event of the step parent’s death by providing for them in their Will.
We hope that this has provided you with some clarity about the legal process surrounding adoption for step parents and the alternative steps that can be taken. The BTO Family Law team are here to help you should you require legal assistance with step parent adoption please contact us.