A guide to step-parent adoption.
The making of an adoption order is only one of a series of options you can consider as a step-parent in making plans for the future of the child of your partner. These are:
- changing a child's name
- be named as guardian in the parent's will
- obtain parental responsibility
- apply for a Residence Order
- apply for a Special Guardianship Order
- apply for an Adoption Order.
You need to carefully consider which of these options is best for you. In doing so you need to be clear about what parental responsibility is.
Parental responsibility for a child gives you important legal rights as well as responsibilities. Without it, you don't have any right to be involved in decisions such as where they live, their education, religion or medical treatment. With parental responsibility, you are treated in law as the child's parent, and you take equal responsibility for bringing them up. The child's birth parents should be involved in the decision making whether they have parental responsibility or not.
Whatever option you choose it is important to remember that every child has a past experience that needs to be recognised and valued. You have a responsibility to keep that alive for them.
Options available to you
1. Changing a child's name
A child's name can be changed at any time, provided it is not to deceive or defraud another person. There is no legal procedure, providing all the people who need to give their consent have done so. The parent simply starts using the new name. A child's forename or surname can be changed; names can be added or rearranged.
You may need evidence that a child's name has been changed and it is a good idea to have a letter from the parent saying by what name the child will be known. A child's name on his or her birth certificate cannot be changed, except in limited circumstances.
A child or young person under 16 does not have to give consent for his or her name to be changed. However, if a child does object he or she can apply for a court order to prevent the change of name.
Once a child's name has been changed it can be used for all purposes, such as starting school and registering with a GP. However, evidence, such as a letter, may be required.
Where only one parent or person has parental responsibility for a child, that person can lawfully change the child's name. Where two or more people have parental responsibility for the child, one of them can lawfully change the child's name if all the others agree. Such agreements do not need to be in writing.
If there is a Residence Order in force, a child's name cannot be changed without the written agreement of anyone else who has parental responsibility or the permission of the court.
2. Being named in the will of the child's parent
It is always sensible for the parents of a child to make a will and express their view as to who should care for their child in the event of their death. It is advisable to discuss this with your partner and they could make a will identifying you as their chosen carer in the event of their death. This does not give you parental responsibility and it may be wise for you to apply for it if your partner does die.
3. Obtaining parental responsibility
A step-parent can obtain parental responsibility (opens in a new window) for a child or young person of his or her partner by either:
(a) Written agreement between the step-parent and the parents who have parental responsibility for the child.
(b) Court Order.
This provides an alternative to adoption where a step-parent wishes to gain parental responsibility for his or her step-child. It does not remove parental responsibility from either birth parent and does not legally separate the child from membership of the family of either birth parent.
If there is no other birth parent with parental responsibility your partner can agree to share parental responsibility with you without discussing it with anyone else. However, the agreement of the other birth parent should be sought, even if they do not hold parental responsibility. This is particularly important if there is ongoing contact or if they are paying maintenance for the child.
If another parent is not willing to agree to you having parental responsibility you may want to apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
The court will need to consider the response of the other birth parent but they can decide to overrule his or her wishes.
4. Residence Order
A step-parent can also acquire parental responsibility through applying to the court for a Residence Order. A Residence Order states with whom a child is to live and gives parental responsibility to the holders of the order. It does not deprive others of their parental responsibility or sever legal links, this can be important to a child who has a significant relationship with a non-resident parent and the extended family. A Residence Order can last until a child or young person is 18 but usually expires when the young person reaches the age of 16.
5. Special Guardianship Order
A step-parent could apply to the court for a Special Guardianship Order regarding the child or young person they wish to care for. A Special Guardianship Order is similar to a Residence Order but the Special Guardian's Parental Responsibility is considered to carry more weight than that of anyone else with parental responsibility. Thus it is not appropriate if the step parent is in a partnership with one of the child or young person's birth parents. This order may be appropriate in situations where a child's birth parent (and step-parent's partner) is seriously ill or has died.
6. Adoption Order
An Adoption Order made by a court gives the adopter and their partner sole parental responsibility for the child and confers the same status and rights for the child as if he or she had been born into that family.
An adoption order has the following effect:
- It severs the legal link between the child and their non-resident birth parent, although contact can still continue under voluntary arrangements.
- The child loses any inheritance rights from the other birth parent who does not have care or custody of the child.
- The child or young person has access to their adoption history at the age of 18 years, if they wish.
- It cancels any court orders regarding maintenance.
- It removes any right to contact with the other birth parent's parents and half-siblings.
- It provides the right for the child or young person to have access to adoption support services.
You are advised to consider the following implications:
- It is no longer necessary for a couple living together to be married in order to obtain an Adoption Order.
- The fee for lodging an application in the County Court is currently £160.
- There may be a charge (suggested fee £34) for completion of the essential Criminal Records Bureau checks.
- Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, it is no longer necessary for the birth parent partner to adopt his or her own child. The step-parent is the only one who needs to apply.
If having read and considered all the options with your partner and the child or children concerned you are still unclear about what is right for you please seek further advice. You could talk to a solicitor or Citizens Advice.
If you still feel that adoption is the best option for the child or children please contact us, tel: 01629 532271. Ask for the duty social worker or business services and request a 'Notification of Intention to Adopt' form. Once completed, please return this form to us. The address will be on the form.
You are advised not to lodge your application to the court until your assessing social worker has had the opportunity to visit and start discussions with you.
You will be allocated an assessing social worker. The enquiries and preparation of a report for the court is time consuming and has to be prioritised alongside other work, so you should be prepared for a waiting period which may be several months.
You will be asked to complete a Criminal Records Bureau check at an early stage. Certain offences specified under Sex Offenders Act 1997 Schedule 1 will automatically lead to your application not being accepted. Checks will also be undertaken with your current local authority and if you have lived outside Derbyshire within the last five years, checks will be made with the relevant local authority.
Your assessing social worker will visit you at home to gather information in order to complete the report for the court and, in so doing, will consider whether adoption is in the best interests of your child. He or she will want to meet with the child at the centre of the application to ensure that they are happy with being adopted and when age appropriate, understand the implications of adoption.
You will be asked to provide information about the whereabouts of the other birth parent of the child or, if their whereabouts is not known, to make enquiries to find them. Your assessing social worker will then arrange to interview the child's other birth parent. This will be arranged whether or not that birth parent has legal parental responsibility or not.
On completion of the court report (known as an Annex A report), your assessing social worker will assist you to complete the application form to the court. You will also need to provide the child's (long version) birth certificate, your marriage certificate if appropriate, your own birth certificate and, if appropriate, your or your partner's decree absolute. In addition a court fee of approximately £160 is required to be paid.
The court, on receipt of your application will appoint a CAFCASS officer (a social worker who specifically works for the court service) to visit the birth parent who does not have custody or care of the child to witness his or her consent. If consent is not given they will look into the circumstances of the application and will consider what is best for the child. They will want to interview him or her to ascertain his or her views, dependent on the age of the child.