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Five questions adoption lawyers get asked
National Adoption Week runs from 15th to 21st October this year, with the aim of spreading awareness of adoption and encourage potential adopters to think seriously about the idea. As part of this, we asked adoption and family law solicitor Clare Cox to answer some frequently asked questions about the ins and outs of adoption.
What is adoption?
When a child is adopted, they cease to be the legal child of their birth parents and instead become the legal child of their adoptive parent(s).
Once adopted, the child loses any automatic right to inherit money or property from their birth family, but gains the same inheritance rights from their adoptive parents.
The birth family’s right to information about the child and their right to make decisions about them are revoked and ‘transferred’ to the adopting family.
Sometimes adopted children continue to have some contact with the birth family, although this usually is in the form of letters once or twice a year.
Am I allowed to adopt?
To adopt, you must be over the age of 21 and resident or domiciled in the UK.
Contrary to popular myth, you can’t be excluded from adopting because of your gender or sexual orientation. Single people can adopt by themselves or a couple can adopt together – this includes civil partners and unmarried couples in a long-term relationship. The only exception is that you can’t adopt a child with your own sibling, parent or grandparent as a co-adopter.
It is possible to adopt if you have a criminal record, depending on the time and nature of the offence. However, having a criminal record may count against you during an adoption assessment – the adoption service needs to be satisfied that you will be a suitable parent for the child.
Who can I adopt?
The child who you are adopting must be under 18 when you apply, although you have to start the process much earlier than their 18th birthday. Adults (anyone over 18) cannot be adopted.
It’s possible to adopt a child in your family who you care for but isn’t your son or daughter – for example, a grandchild, nephew, niece or cousin. It’s also possible to adopt your stepchildren if both their birth parents agree. It’s important to remember that there are alternatives to adoption in these situations and I advise careful consideration of all of the options.
If you’re looking to adopt from outside your immediate family circle, you can seek to adopt a child who has been relinquished by their parents for adoption.
Similarly, you can adopt children who have been the subject of care proceedings – in other words, removed from their birth parents by a court due to the risk to the child’s welfare. This includes children in care who you’ve fostered.
How do I adopt a child in care?
To adopt a child, you must first have a positive assessment from the local authority. Then you are matched with a child or sibling group. The child (or children) are placed with you and finally, once they have settled in, you must apply for an adoption order from the court.
The first step you’ll go through is a two stage adoption assessment process which confirms your suitability. This lasts around six months and includes criminal record checks (minor offences may be discounted) as well as health checks. If you’ve adopted or been a foster carer in the past, you can often be fast-tracked through the first stage of the assessment.
After you’ve been approved, matching you with a child can begin. The council must check with the child’s birth parents that they are willing for the adoption to happen, unless a court has decided to override their wishes.
Any match must be approved by a panel of advisors, following which the child can be placed with you. After a child has been placed for adoption, the adoption order can be applied for no sooner than ten weeks later.
Can I adopt a child while their care is still being decided in court?
You can’t adopt a child until the family court has decided whether adoption is the right course of action for them. However, it’s possible for prospective adopters to foster a child while a court hears their case and decides whether or not they should be placed for adoption.
Assuming the court decides that the child should be adopted, the adopters have already been ‘matched’ with the child and the adoption can move forward more quickly.
This allows the potential adopters to develop their relationship with the child, although until the court case has come to an end, the birth parents may still have significant involvement in their life as well.
Our family law solicitors have substantial expertise in adoption and care cases, as well as other issues relating to children. To speak to an expert family law solicitor, call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.