Here at Higgins Miller we specialise in matters of family law such as divorce and civil partnership, children disputes and cases of domestic violence. The approach which we take to sensitive cases of this kind consists of two equally important facets. The first of these is our legal expertise, and the fact that every member of our team brings a blend of know-how and experience to every case which they handle. The second facet is an ability to focus on the emotional aspects of a case, and to offer advice which reduces the stress which our clients are going through at the same time as providing practical and accessible advice.
Some of the cases we deal with involve stepparent adoption, and we understand that making the decision to adopt a stepchild is something which none of our clients are going to do lightly. The process of adopting step children is one which has specific steps and measures set out in law, and on top of this we appreciate the fact that it is likely to have a huge impact upon wider family relationships. That’s why we go out of our way to offer useful, clear advice, ensuring that things run smoothly and that the individuals involved, of all ages, are able to concentrate on the personal aspects of stepparent adoption.
The first thing to understand about adopting a step child is that it will completely alter the child in questions relationship with their other natural parent. Once adoption has been completed, the child will have no legal relationship with the natural parent or other relatives such as grandparents, and nor will they be legally entitled to financial assistance such as maintenance.
There are alternatives to adoption which confer a certain degree of responsibility upon a step-parent without taking the process as far as an actual stepchild adoption. The first of these is a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Order. In law, Parental Responsibility is automatically conferred upon the birth mother when the child is born, and can be obtained by the father through either marrying the natural mother or being named as the father on the birth certificate. A step parent can gain Parental Responsibility, allowing them to make decisions on issues such as education and medical treatment, by entering into an agreement with everyone else that has Parental Responsibility. If it is not possible to reach an agreement, then a step parent can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
Another alternative is to apply for a Child Arrangement Order (formerly known as a Residence Order), which deals with the question of a stepchild’s permanent residence. If a Child Arrangement Order is granted, then Parental Responsibility is also granted simultaneously. Whether you opt to take one of these alternative paths, or feel that stepparent adoption is the only measure which will allow you to feel genuinely secure in your domestic arrangements, it’s vital that you access the advice of a lawyer with experience of family law at the earliest possible opportunity.
If you do want to explore the process of stepparent adoption then you must first meet the following criteria:
- You must be aged 21 or over
- You must be married to the resident birth parent or sharing a long term family relationship with them. In the majority of cases this will mean the relationship has to have lasted at least a year, although local authorities around the country – your local authority being the body responsible for dealing with any adoption application – may insist on two years or longer.
- You must live in the UK or have been resident here for at least twelve months
- You must have been living with the stepchild in question for an unbroken period of at least six months
- The step child in question must be under the age of 18
- You must have informed the relevant local authority of your intentions at least three months before actually applying to the court. An application can be made to the Family Court and there will be a fee involved.
When the local authority is aware of your intentions they will investigate the circumstances and compile a report into looking at whether stepchild adoption is appropriate. They will consider the child’s best interests and interview and gain consent from anyone with Parental Responsibility. If this consent isn’t given, then the application to adopt may be contested in court, which is the point at which expert legal advice becomes absolutely imperative.
In some cases a birth parent may be absent and thus unable to give their consent. They have a legal right to do so, however, so the court will have to be assured that all possible steps were taken to locate and speak to the absent parent in question.
Once the local authority has investigated, and compiled its’ report, the report will be submitted to the court at the same time as the adoption application. The court will use the contents of the report to come to a decision and, if stepchild adoption is granted, then a new birth certificate will be issued for the child in question, featuring the name of the adoptive parent and the resident birth parent.
The length of time the process takes depends upon factors such as whether the application is contested. The time, stress and financial implications of a contested adoption application may be such that your legal representatives advise alternative options or, at the very least, set out exactly what an application of this kind is likely to involve.
If you’d like to know more about the process then please get in touch with us by calling 0161 429 7251 or via email at [email protected]. A legal aid appraisal lasting 20 minutes is provided free of charge and if you decide to take things further then a Fixed Fee first appointment will cost £50 (Plus VAT). The wider details of our case funding are available here.