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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Adopting a stepchild

If you live in England or Wales and are planning to adopt your spouse's or partner's child, you need to inform your local council. You must do this at least three months before starting your adoption application with the court. If your application is successful, you will get parental responsibility (PR) for the child.

Getting parental responsibility without adopting

A step-parent can get parental responsibility for their spouse's or partner's child if either:

  • both birth parents (or anyone else with parental responsibility) agree
  • it is by order of the court

This has the advantage of not removing PR from the other birth parent. It also means that the child is not legally separated from membership of the other birth parent's family. This measure only applies to married couples and civil partners.

How your adoption application will be assessed

If you have decided to adopt, the court will ask your local council to provide a report on:

  • your partner
  • the child
  • the other birth parent

The report will be prepared by a social worker and will be used to help the court make a decision. Your eligibility will be assessed in the same way as if you were adopting a 'looked-after' child.

The child's other parent(s), or anyone else holding parental responsibility for them, must normally agree to the adoption. However, on the basis of the report, sometimes the court may decide this is not necessary.

An adoption order - granting parental rights to you - will only be made if it is seen as being in the child's best interests. Some people feel the need to adopt their stepchild in order to make the family feel complete. However, this is not a good enough reason for a court to grant an adoption order.

Who will have parental responsibility?

When you are adopting your partner’s child, the adoption order doesn’t interfere with your spouse's or partner’s parental responsibility. The adoption order gives parental responsibility for the child to you, the applicant.

However, the adoption order removes parental responsibility from:

  • the other birth parent
  • anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child

It also cancels out any existing orders like:

  • contact orders – where the court has ruled on how and when contact visits with the child take place
  • residence orders – where the court has decided with which parent the child should live
  • special guardianship orders – where the court has given temporary PR to persons other that the birth parents, for example relatives

Adopting a stepchild from overseas

To adopt your partner’s child from overseas you will need to go through the same process as adopting a child not known to you from overseas. This is also known as intercountry adoption.

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