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Step up to the plate – how to adopt your stepchild

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 23 October 2015
  2. Family
  3. 0 comments
Stepfather and stepson

If you have been a step-parent for some time, you may have come to treat your partner’s son or daughter as though he or she were your own.

However, you don’t have the same rights and responsibilities as a legal parent or guardian, even if you are married or in a civil partnership with one of their parents.

If you want to be recognised as your stepson’s or stepdaughter’s legal parent, you can adopt them.

Why adopt your stepchild?

Adopting your stepchild can be good to establish yourself, your partner and their child as a proper family. It also means that if there is an absent parent, he or she will lose any legal rights to see the child and potentially destabilise things.

If you, as a stepparent, have essentially become the child’s parent in all but name, becoming the legal parent will simplify things such as inheritance, changing the child’s name, and anything else that requires permission from legal guardians.

Will he or she officially become my child?

Yes, you and your partner will become the child’s legal parents, just as in any other adoption. This will give you full parental responsibility for the child, as though they had been born to you.

This also means that parental responsibility for the child will be taken away from anyone else, such as the child’s other birth parent. It also cancels out any court orders related to other parents’ visitation rights.

Are there any requirements?

You must be at least 21 years old, a resident of the British Isles, and the child must have lived with both you and your partner for at least six months before you can adopt.

The child must also be under the age of 18 on the date of the application.

You also need to have a clear relationship with the child’s other parent. The two of you will need to be:

  • married
  • in a civil partnership, or
  • in an “enduring family relationship”.

The definition of an enduring family relationship can vary based on your local authority, but you would generally need to have been living together in a relationship for at least 6 months to a year.

This must be a relationship – a platonic friendship between yourself and the other parent wouldn’t be enough.

You will also need to inform your local council at least 3 months prior to applying for a court order.

The adoption process

Before you can adopt, the council will need to make sure that allowing you to adopt is in the best interests of the child.

They can obtain references from the Criminal Records Bureau, the NSPCC, and other organisations to see if you are suitable to become the child’s guardian. They will also send a social worker to talk to you and the child.

The other birth parent (or anyone else with parental responsibility) will need to consent to the adoption, because it will remove any parental rights from them. If they don’t consent, they can contest the application.

If they contest it, the council will need to carry out interviews with the child, the birth parents, and any other individuals who could help them work out what is best for the child.

Once three months have passed since you notified the council, you can apply for an adoption order at your local magistrates’ court.

The adoption application is made using Form A58, and will cost £170.

What is the alternative to adopting?

If you want to have the bond between yourself and your stepchild legally recognised, there are other ways to do this with less finality than adoption.

Parental Responsibility Agreement

If you are a stepparent who is married or in a civil partnership with one of the child’s birth parents, you can set up a Parental Responsibility Agreement, which will grant you all of the rights and responsibilities that you would have as a parent.

Setting up a Parental Responsibility Agreement is considerably easier than adopting, as you just need consent of both birth parents. It also allows the other birth parent to keep their parental rights.

You can download a parental responsibility form here.

If the other birth parent doesn’t agree to give you parental responsibility, it is possible to apply for a Parental Responsibility Order. A court can grant this if they think it would be in the best interest of the child for you to have parental responsibility.

Contact your nearest county court or family proceedings court to learn more about this.

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