SEWAS is able to offer information and advice before contacting your local county or magistrate’s court regarding the process and assessment for a step-parent adoption. Our contact details are included in the “contact us” section.

To undertake in a step parent adoption you must…

  • Be over 21
  • Have lived with the child for a minimum of six months in the UK
  • Have been in a relationship with the child’s parents for a minimum of two years at application start date
  • Be UK residents
  • The step-child you hope to adopt must be under the age of 18 years old
  • The absent birth parent, if possible (i.e. not deceased), must be contacted to gain their wishes and feelings. This will be done as part of the assessment by the social worker

Step-parents often wish to adopt children from their partner’s previous relationships. Step-parent adoption involves becoming a legal parent of the child. This involves making a lifelong commitment to the child. To adopt your partner’s child (who normally lives in the UK) you will need to talk to us about your plan at least three months before lodging your adoption application with the court.

Before you start

Adoption is first and foremost about what is best for the child/children involved.

It is important to realise that step-parent adoption is not the only way to provide a stable and secure family environment or to recognise the rights, roles and responsibilities of step-parents.

You should therefore consider all the alternatives before going ahead with a step-parent adoption. The Courts will not automatically grant an adoption order and will expect other alternatives to have been explored and assessed first.

It is advisable to seek advice before making an adoption application.

You may also consider contacting a solicitor who specialises in children and family law although this is not a compulsory requirement. You will find details of family solicitors in the local telephone directory or online.

The Impact of Step-Parent Adoption

For the adopted child.

A number of outcomes from step-parent adoption include:

  • The relationship between the child and the step-parent will be recognised in law.
  • The step-parent will acquire parental responsibility (legal rights) on the same footing as the birth parent caring for the child.
  • The child may acquire a new surname or family name.

There are a number of wider reaching consequences to consider as the child would no longer have any legal ties to the other birth parent and a large section of that parent’s family.

Although good relations may be maintained, it does mean that in law the adopted child will:

  • Lose any automatic rights to contact with that parent or that parent’s family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.).
  • Lose any rights to maintenance payments from the other birth parent i.e. CSA.
  • Lose any rights to inheritance from the other birth parent or that parent’s family unless special provision is made in their wills.

For the Step-Parent

The step-parent will become the child’s legal parent with all the rights and responsibilities they would have if the child were born to them. Adoption is a life-long commitment to being a parent throughout childhood and beyond. Adoption is permanent and is irreversible except in rare and extreme circumstances.

For birth parents

An adoption order will remove parental responsibility (if they have it) from the absent birth parent but it will not remove it from the parent who is the step-parent’s partner.

If the adopting step-parent and birth parent separate or divorce after an adoption order is granted, both partners will still have equal rights to the child whilst the child’s absent birth parent will still have none. This means the step-parent that has adopted the child will have a legal right to contact as well as pay maintenance for the child as they would still be the child’s legal parent. The adopting parent’s responsibilities to the child will continue.

On records

  • The making of an adoption order will be recorded in the Adopted Children Register (the Adopted Children Register is not open to public inspection or search).An adoption certificate will be issued to adoptive parents.
  • An adoption certificate will be issued to adoptive parents.
  • The child’s entry in the register of live-births will also be annotated that adoption has occurred. At 18 years old, an adopted person can apply for a copy of their original birth certificate.

Other important things to consider

An important point people can forget is that the courts view adoption from the child’s perspective, rather than the adult’s. What an adult wants is considered, but an adoption order will only be granted if it is viewed as being in the best interests of the child. Some people feel the need to adopt their step-child in order to make the family feel complete, but this is not a good enough reason for a court to grant an adoption order.

The Criteria for Step-Parent Adoption

Applications may be made by either a married or an unmarried partner (whether of different or the same sex) of a parent with whom they are living in an enduring family relationship (customarily lasting 3 years or more, but a minimum of 2 years).

The step-parent must have lived with the child for at least six months prior to the application. The applicant should be over the age of 21 years, whilst the child must be under the age of 18 years old.

By UK law, once a person has had their 18th birthday they are no longer able to be adopted in any capacity.

The step-parent must apply to the Court for an adoption order to be made. Where permission is granted, the step-parent becomes the adoptive parent.

An adoption order is only possible if:  

  • The Court decides that it is in the best interests of the child.
  • Any other parent who plays a role in the child’s life and who has parental responsibility agrees (unless the Court decides that their permission is not required).
  • The child has been looked after by the couple for more than six months prior to the application.
  • The applicant must be over the age of 21 years and the birth parent 18 years or older.
  • One of the couple is resident in the UK or both have been resident in the UK for a year or more.
  • The couple does not comprise of two people who are related (e.g. two elder sisters adopting a younger brother or sister).
  • To evidence stability, the couple must be assessed by the Court to be in an “enduring family relationship”.

Note that it is no longer a requirement in law that a birth parent adopts their own child at the same time as the step-parent.

Alternatives to Step-Parent Adoption

It is quite natural for a step-parent to drive the decision to adopt children in his or her desire to become part of a formal family unit. However, adoption may not always be the best way to provide stability and structure to a child.

The Courts often recognise a number of alternatives which include:

Parental Responsibility Order 

An order, if granted by the Court, gives the step-parent parental responsibility. This will not sever the formal links with the child’s extended birth family in the same way that adoption would.

Parental Responsibility Agreement

This is a formal agreement drawn up by a solicitor which clarifies the rights, roles and responsibilities of everyone with parental responsibility.

Child Arrangement Order

Child Arrangement Orders were introduced to UK legislation to replace and encompass other orders such as Residence Orders and Contact Orders. A Child Arrangements Order therefore regulates arrangements relating to whom and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with certain people.

Legal Advice

You may wish to seek the advice of a Child and Family Solicitor before proceeding with an application. It is not compulsory or always necessary to have legal representation to make an adoption application, however in complex cases or cases where there is a dispute it may be advisable.

What to do next?  

  1. Contact us for general advice.
  2. If you decide to submit an application for step parent adoption you should notify SEWAS in writing of your intention to make an application (this should be done at least three months before you make the application to the court, this can also be done by a solicitor on your behalf if you have one). We would always advise you to seek advice from SEWAS first.
  3. We will contact you to discuss adoption and the alternatives and a social worker will visit you to discuss the process. They will also have a duty to visit the child to ensure their care and wellbeing is satisfactory and also that they have an age-appropriate understanding of adoption; the Courts will want to know that your child is aware of their circumstances i.e. not believe their step-parent is their birth parent.
  4. Submit your application with the Court. A Family Proceedings (magistrate’s court) is used in most step parent adoption applications, particularly where both birth parents are consenting to the adoption. You will need to pay an application fee to the court, this is non-refundable should you later decide not to proceed.
  5. The Court will ask one of our social workers to provide a detailed report before it can make an adoption order. The report is referred to as a Suitability Report and must contain information about:
    • You.
    • Your family.
    • Your health.
    • Checks from Police, Probation and child protection lists.
    • Previous partners of the step-parent (and details of any other children).
    • What alternatives to adoption have been considered.
    • Evidence that adequate attempts have been made to trace, contact and seek the views of an absent or distant parent.
    • Whether adoption is in the child’s best interests.
    • The child’s welfare and education

      The report will also assess the potential impact of the adoption on the child, both birth parents and any other children within the family that may not be part of the application. The report requires the adoption service to make a professional recommendation to the court about whether adoption is in the best interest of the child.

      This will help the Court decide if an adoption order is the right decision for the family as a whole or whether other alternatives are more appropriate
  6. The Court will also appoint a Guardian who will visit both birth parents and applicant to deal with agreements to adoption and any other issues which could have arisen. The Guardian will always consider an application from the child’s perspective.
  7. The Court will then make its decision on whether to approve an Adoption Order. Both applicants attend the court hearings and the child will also be invited to attend an adoption hearing at the Court. The Social Worker will also attend and your solicitor may attend if you have one. The Court can make an Adoption Order, no order at all or an alternative order such as a Child Arrangements Order, this could mean the absent birth parent if they have contested and if felt in the child’s best interests could end up with contact arrangements.