What is adoption?
Adoption is a legal procedure in which the Parental Responsibility for a child is transferred from their birth parents to their adopters. An adopted child loses all the legal ties with their birth parents. Birth parents may consent to the adoption order when they recognise that they cannot meet the child’s needs, or the Court may impose an order where there are welfare concerns.
Same-sex couples in the United Kingdom have had the right to adopt since 2002, following the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
When an adoption order is made in respect of a child, the child becomes a full member of their new family, usually takes the family name, and assumes the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to the adoptive family including the right of inheritance. Adoption is a significant legal order and is not usually reversible.
Adoption agencies will undertake an assessment of people who wish to adopt to see if they are suitable. Ability to care for a child will be the agency’s main consideration and a person’s age may be relevant to that assessment.
Divorce and separation after adoption - how can mediation help?
Relationships can break down for adoptive parents just as they can for birth parents. The rights and responsibilities of the adoptive parents to their adopted child do not change. As in most cases of parental separation, the adoptive parents will share Parental Responsibility and will be jointly responsible for making important decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare.
Mediation provides a safe, confidential environment for adoptive parents to consider the best arrangements for their children following separation. Parents stay in control of decision making and can obtain legal orders by consent if these are needed; mediation is usually cheaper, quicker and less stressful than settling any disputes through court proceedings.
Do children remain in contact with their birth family?
Adoption can sometimes involve continuing contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family, either through direct (face to face, telephone) or indirect (confidential letterbox) contact. Direct contact is less common, although children who have siblings living elsewhere may be supported to remain in direct contact with their siblings. The most common form of contact is confidential letterbox contact, where an exchange of information once or twice a year takes place between the birth family and the adoptive family and addresses are not shared. Decisions about contact must always be considered when a child is adopted.
Contact with birth parents - how can mediation help?
Some of our mediators at Family Mediation North East have considerable experience of working within the Family Courts. We have witnessed how time consuming, costly and stressful a dispute about contact with birth parents can be for birth parents, prospective adopters and professionals alike. Similar issues can present in Special Guardianship proceedings. Such disputes can cause considerable delay to finalising arrangements for a child in what would otherwise be an order by consent; delay is recognised in the Children Act 1989 to be harmful to a child’s best interests.
At Family Mediation North East we have the experience and skill to mediate between professionals, birth parents and prospective adopters to enable them to establish safe and manageable contact arrangements in the best interests of the child concerned. We welcome enquiries from professionals to discuss further how mediation could help.
How do I adopt my spouse or partner’s child (step parent adoption)?
A child’s step-parent may make an application for an adoption order, either on their own or as one of a married or unmarried couple. If you are applying to adopt the child as one of a couple, then both of you need to be named as applicants for the adoption order. If you are not married to the child’s parent, you will need to show that you are living together in a lasting relationship. You will also need to be living as a family with the child at all times during the six months preceding the application.
Prior to applying to court for an adoption order, the prospective adopter must first give three months’ notice in writing to the local authority Children’s Services Department where they and the child are living. The local authority will appoint a social worker to prepare a report for the court about the child, the family circumstances, the prospective adopter and their partner. The social worker will need to meet with the prospective adopter/partner and the child and will fully discuss the adoption process and requirements with them.
Any court fees must be paid when an application is made to court. If both birth parents agree to the adoption and it is not going to be contested, a solicitor is not usually needed; however, if the adoption is contested by one of the birth parents, it is advisable to consult a solicitor.
The court will decide whether adoption is in the child’s best interests. They must also find out whether the other birth parent agrees to adoption.
The court has to consider what order is best for the child and has a duty to ensure that the child’s welfare is the main priority, taking into account everyone’s views and the child’s need for a stable family life.
Alternatives to adoption for step-parents
Alternatives that can give Parental Responsibility to a step-parent (which they share with the other parent(s)) are Parental Responsibility Agreements and Orders; you can only apply for these if you are married to the birth parent of the child.
Another alternative is a Child Arrangements Order stating that the child should reside with the step parent; this confers Parental Responsibility upon anyone named on the order, which they then share with the child’s birth parents. While a Child Arrangements Order is in force, no one is allowed to agree to adoption, change the child’s surname or remove the child from the country for over 28 days, unless everyone with Parental Responsibility agrees. If a Child Arrangements Order names a step-parent, they continue to hold Parental Responsibility if their partner dies.
How can mediation help with step-parent adoptions and parental responsibility applications by step-parents?
For birth-parents, an application by a step-parent is likely to be an emotional and difficult decision. In contested situations, lengthy and often costly court proceedings can ensue. Mediation offers a cost-effective alternative that is usually quicker and less-stressful. Our mediators have the skill and experience to assist all the parties to consider and evaluate their options in a safe and calm environment to enable them to arrive at the best arrangements for the child concerned. Any legal orders that may be required can then be applied for by consent.
References: Child Law Advice (registered charity no 281222)
If you want more information about how family mediation can help you resolve issues like the ones detailed in this blog please contact us via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us 01670 528441.