An Adoption Order is a Court Order which makes a child legally the child of new parents and extinguishes the legal links between that child and its natural parents. The result is that the child is treated as being the child of the adopters and not of the natural parents.
Some common adoption situations
If you are the step parent of a child and your spouse is the natural parent of the child then you can apply jointly to adopt.
Arrangements made within families where a child is both housed and looked after by members of the wider family: those persons looking after the child on a long term arrangement may wish to adopt the child.
Formal placements via a Local Authority
An adoption agency may place a child with parents chosen formally to adopt the child. The mere placement is not enough. There has to be a formal Adoption Order.
If you have a child placed with you via the Local Authority then they may pay the legal costs of the procedure. If you consult a Solicitor he/she should tell you whether you are eligible for any assistance with your fees from the Legal Services Commission – this will depend on your financial situation.
If you are a married person you must apply with your spouse. If you are not married then you cannot apply with your partner but you can apply individually. Generally you must be over 21.
The child must have been living with you for at least 12 months prior to the Application unless you are a step-parent, relative or unless it is a Local Authority placement (in which case the qualifying time is only 13 weeks).
As you have to go through the Court to obtain an Adoption Order, you will need legal help to make the application – consequently you really need to consult a Solicitor. The Court hearing is informal and often emotional. The Judge does his/her best to highlight the joy of being adopted for both new parents and the child. The Judge will see everyone in his/her own private rooms at Court and will make the occasion special for the child who attends.
Briefly the process is as follows:
7.4.1 A formal Notice has to be given to the Local Authority of the intention to apply 3 months before the Application is lodged. The Local Authority are under a duty to have a specific social services Report prepared for the Court. This will tell the Court whether they support the adoption.
7.4.3 Before applying, you need to know whether the natural parents consent to the adoption. If they do, they can give formal written consent. If not, you need to apply to the Court to see if the Court will order that the consent of the natural parents should be dispensed with. There will be a separate Court hearing about this. There is a number of different reasons for which the Court will consider it appropriate to allow the adoption to proceed without consent of the parents – the most relied upon reason being that the parents have unreasonably withheld their consent.
The unmarried father does not specifically have to be asked to give his consent unless he has Parental Responsibility. However , he should be consulted in the process. He should approach a Solicitor for advice about his position.
7.4.4 You have to apply on a standard application form giving all relevant information. The application fee is £120 per child. If you need to ask the Court to dispense with the parents’ consent you need to give to the Court a formal statement of your case and of your reasons. You also give the Court the birth certificate , Marriage Certificate and Medical reports.
[The procedure is slightly different if the child has been “freed” for adoption following a Local Authority application. In those circumstances the parental consent has already been dealt with. A “Freeing Order” is a stepping stone in the adoption process where Local Authorities are involved. It allows the Local Authority to extinguish the natural parents rights and the Local Authority then have the legal rights and duties until the long term placement is found and the new parents adopt.]
The Mother’s formal consent to an adoption is a pre-requisite. Adoption cannot go ahead without the Mother’s consent or an Order of the Court stipulating that her consent should be dispensed with.
As the Mother, you can consult a Solicitor who will put forward your case in opposing the adoption. You will need representing at a hearing at which the Court will decide whether or not to dispense with your consent.
You may be eligible for Legal Funding for the advice and the representation you receive, depending on your finances.
There is also a need to consider what continuing contact , if any , you may have with the child after adoption. This is something which Courts are now considering more. It can be considered at the time of the adoption application and (more rarely) at a later date.
You will have Parental Responsibility for your child and should (like the Mother) be consulted as to giving your formal consent. The observations set out above about (a) a hearing to dispense with your consent and (b) future contact, also apply to married Fathers.
If you obtain Parental Responsibility either by a Court Order or a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s natural mother, or after lst December, 2003 by registering the birth with the child’s mother
If you do not have Parental Responsibility then your consent will not formally be required. But you should be consulted and the Local Authority should approach you when they prepare their report. You should see a Solicitor to discuss possible ways to get your foot in the door to try to intervene in the formal process – usually by way of an application for Parental Responsibility.
If your child is subject to a Care Order and is in the care of the Local Authority over a considerable period of time with no adoption taking place then you should see a Solicitor about what you can do. Your circumstances may have changed and it is worth seeking advice, firstly, to make enquiries about what is happening and, secondly, about a possible application to the Court, for example to revive contact.
6.4 What are my rights to contact until a child has been adopted?