The definition of a "family" is forever evolving. Society has long moved on from the idea that a family involves a married couple and their biological children. However, although a 21st century family can take various shapes, parental rights and responsibilities only lie with those legally entitled to them.

If an individual wishes to formalise their relationship with the child of their spouse or partner, adoption may be an option. In this insight, we take you through the 3 stage step-parent adoption process.

Step 1: Check your eligibility to adopt

The first step in the adoption process is to check that you are in fact eligible to adopt the child. You must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be married to, in a civil partnership with, or living in an "enduring family relationship" with the mother or father of the child.
  • The mother or father must have parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the child.
  • You and the mother or father must be domiciled or habitually resident in the British Islands.
  • The mother or father must be over 18 years old.
  • You must be over 21 years old.
  • The child must be under the age of 18 and not married or in a civil partnership.

Step 2: Contact your local authority

If you are eligible to adopt, the next step is to contact your local authority and notify them of your intention to adopt. The local authority will then arrange for a "home visit" to be conducted by a social worker and a report will be prepared detailing your suitability to adopt.

Step 3: File a Petition with the court

Once the local authority has carried out their checks and prepared their report, the final step is for us to file an adoption "Petition" with the local court seeking an Adoption Order. Any other relevant documents are also filed at this point, including the social worker's report.

The court will fix a hearing and notify the child's birth parents of the Petition. This includes birth parents who have not seen the child during the child's lifetime. If the birth parent does not object to the application, then the Adoption Order can be granted at the first hearing so long as the court is satisfied it is in the best interests of the child to grant the order. If a birth parent with continuing parental rights and responsibilities objects to the application, then there will be further hearings at court. The court will only grant the Adoption Order if satisfied that the adoption is in the child's best interests and it will be throughout their life.

If you are thinking about adopting, please get in touch with a member of our team. We can answer any questions you have and guide you through the adoption process.