In the UK, if you want to adopt a child, you must go through formal procedures. This involves the court issuing a “Child Adoption Order”. The function of an adoption order is to formally sever the legal relationship between the child and their biological parents, and to establish an order to form a new relationship with the adoptive parents.


In this article, we will explain the entire process of child adoption to you and how to apply for an adoption order.


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Am I eligible to adopt?


Since 30 December 2005, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and The Family Procedure “Adoption” Rules 2005 have overhauled adoption law. The updated law aligns child adoption with the Children Act 1989 and seeks to ensure that issues including birth parent consent are addressed at an earlier stage.


These laws prioritize the welfare of children and allow parents to adopt as single applicants. Furthermore, couples living together – whether they are married, in a civil partnership or in an enduring family relationship, can also apply for an adoption order at the same time.


You also do not have to be a British citizen to adopt a child. However, you (or your partner) must have a fixed and permanent home in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. You (and your partner) must have lived in the UK for at least one year before starting the application process. In addition, potential adopters must meet other criteria including not having criminal convictions for certain crimes.


Those who meet the above preliminary criteria also need to be evaluated to test their suitability, as well as their ability to meet the needs of adopted children. They will therefore be assessed on the following:


  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Current and past relationships with partners, friends and family
  • Experience with children
  • Financial status
  • Work commitments
  • Their ethnic and cultural background
  • Sympathy and understanding of the underlying issues faced by adopted children
  • Other special circumstances


The child adoption process


If you want to adopt a child through an agency, you have two options:


  • Adoption agency affiliated with your local council
  • Voluntary adoption agency


You will need to contact an adoption agency and they will send you information about the child adoption process. Once the agency receives your application, they will do the following:


  • Invite you to attend a range of preparation courses: these are usually held locally and provide advice on the impact that adoption may have on you;
  • Arrange for a social worker to visit you multiple times and conduct assessments. This is to check if you are suitable to be an adoptive parent.
  • Arrange a police check: If you or an adult family member has been convicted of a serious crime, such as against a child, you will not be allowed to adopt.
  • You are asked to provide the names of 3 referees who will provide you with personal references. One of the referees can be a relative.
  • Arrange for you to have a full medical examination.


Smiling young woman using calling using a mobile phone , talking, smiling ordering delivery.


Next, the social worker will send your assessment report to an independent adoption panel. This is a group of people with experience in adoption. The team will make a recommendation to the adoption agency based on your evaluation. The adoption team will send their recommendations to the adoption agency, who will then decide whether you are a suitable adopter.


Once your agency decides that you are a good candidate for child adoption, they will begin the process of looking for the child. The agency will explain how the process works and how you can get involved.


During this process, the adoption agency will arrange to meet with you, and you may also be invited to attend meetings with other people who want to adopt. If you and the agency agree to proceed, the agency will give you an application form. The adoption approval process usually takes about 6 months. You will then be matched with a child for adoption.


If an adoption agency says you can’t adopt and you disagree with the agency’s decision, you can take the following steps:


  • Challenge their decision by writing to them
  • Make an application to the Independent Review Mechanism, which will investigate your case.
  • You can also contact another adoption agency, but you will have to start the process all over again.


How to apply to the court for a child adoption order?


As mentioned earlier, in order to legalize an adoption, you need to apply for an adoption order. This will give you parental rights and responsibilities over your child.


The court requires that the child must have lived with you for at least 10 weeks before you apply. Once the command is granted, then:


  • Adoption becomes permanent
  • Children have the same rights as your own biological children, such as inheritance rights
  • You can purchase a copy of your adoption certificate—you will not automatically receive one.


It is worth mentioning here that most applications for adoption orders are made in the Family Court. You need to submit a completed application for an adoption order to the court: Form A58. If your application is successful, the Registrar General’s Office will produce an Adoption Certificate. This will replace the original birth certificate and show the child’s new name.


If you want a copy of the new certificate you will need to buy one, a ‘full’ copy of the certificate costs £11 and you can order one. This is important, you will need the full version of the certificate to do most legal work for your child, such as getting a passport.


If you hire a family lawyer, your lawyer will assist you in this process.


How do I adopt a stepchild?


Dad and son having fun


If you want to adopt your spouse or partner’s child, you need to tell your local council. You must do this at least 3 months before applying to court for an adoption order. The child must also have lived with both of you for at least 6 months.


The adoption process for stepchildren is similar to that of an adoption agency and requires an evaluation. The evaluation is used to help the court decide whether you can adopt the child.


The court will ask your local government to provide a report that will be used to help the court make its decision. If approved, the adoption order will give you parental responsibility for the child.


It is important to note that once an adoption order is in effect, it cancels any other type of court order regarding how and when the child’s biological parents can visit the child.


What is a private adoption?


If your relative unfortunately passes away, and you want to adopt their child and give them adequate care, you would be adopting privately (not adopting through an agency). An example of this would be existing relatives who want to adopt the child, or the child is already with the proposed child. Non-institutional adoption is allowed if the applicants live together.


The Adoption and Children Act 2002 defines these circumstances and allows adoption by relatives, including the following:


  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters, including half-brothers and sisters
  • Stepparent
  • Aunts and uncles include half-siblings of either parent, or aunts or uncles by marriage or civil partnership.


If you proceed with a private child adoption without the correct legal guidance, you may face criminal prosecution, so it is important that you take professional advice from a specialist lawyer to ensure that you are acting within the law and safeguarding your child’s future.


Want to adopt a child from overseas?


Mother and adopted daughter using colouring pencils


You can adopt a child from overseas if:


  • They cannot be cared for in a safe environment in their own country
  • Adoption is in their best interest
  • The adopter has been assessed by a UK adoption agency as being eligible and suitable to adopt from overseas.


If you would like to adopt a child from overseas, you should contact an adoption agency in the UK via:


  • Your local government in England and Wales
  • Local health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland
  • Voluntary adoption agencies that handle overseas adoptions


The  child adoption process, like a local adoption in the UK, will be completed by a UK adoption agency and fees may apply. If you have been assessed and approved by a UK adoption agency as being suitable to adopt, they will let you know what you need to do next and guide you through the steps.


Your application will be sent to the Department for Education (DfE) or your relevant UK central agency to check whether it meets the eligibility criteria. The Department for Education or your relevant UK central agency will then issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Adoption and send it to the relevant overseas agency together with your adoption application. Some countries require notarization, certification, and translation of adoption applications and supporting documents.


Once a match is made, you will need to visit the child in their country and confirm in writing that you have visited them and wish to proceed with the adoption. It is worth noting that you may need to go through adoption tribunal proceedings in your adopted country and in the UK. Once the placement is completed, you will need to arrange entry permission for the child to enter the UK.


The Department for Education charges a non-refundable application fee of £2500 (minus VAT) in order to adopt a child from overseas.


As a reminder, the UK restricts adoptions from the following countries:


  • Cambodia
  • Guatemala
  • Nepal
  • Haiti
  • Ethiopia
  • Nigeria


If you want to adopt a child from a restricted country, you will need to explain in writing why your situation falls within the exception (for example, adopting a family member) and provide supporting evidence. Learn how to apply for an exception to adopt a child from a country on the restricted list.


Our advice


If you are thinking of adopting a child, regardless of the method, we recommend that you contact a solicitor as early as possible to discuss the relevant legal restrictions and help you review whether you are eligible to adopt a child.


In addition, a lawyer can assist you throughout the application process so that you can obtain the adoption order more smoothly. If you have the above needs, please contact Lisa Law Firm. Our family law team has many years of experience in this area and can assist you with a series of procedures.


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