In this article we look at the legal process of adopting a stepchild.
It is worth bearing in mind at the outset that if the ‘stepparent’ is not actually married to the child’s biological parent then technically they are not a stepparent and so they have limited legal options.
If the stepparent is married to a biological parent then they still do not automatically have Parental Responsibility. They can apply to the court for an Order. Alternatively they can get a Parental Responsibility agreement with the other biological parent — though this is often impractical as that parent might not be around, and if they are around then a court is unlikely to make an order.
A stepparent can adopt a child, but it is not a straightforward application. The government website https://www.gov.uk/child-adoption contains helpful information. The following links are particularly useful. One relates to adopting a stepchild, one sets out the court procedure and the other has the court form that you would need to apply with.
When adopting a stepchild, you need to inform the local authority three months before applying to the court. An assessment will then need to be done. An unmarried couple would have to satisfy the court that there had been a longstanding family relationship of at least a year generally.
An alternative is to apply for parental responsibility by issuing an application for the child to live with you both. Under a ‘live with’ Order, Parental Responsibility would be granted. This option would not remove Parental Responsibility from the other biological parent. A different form is used for this type of application.
You will need to provide a lot of information and show that you have tried to contact and engage with the other biological parent to seek their consent. They will be entitled to object, consent, or choose not to engage at all.
We have very recently dealt with a successful application. This was in relation to a married couple where the stepmother wished to secure Parental Responsibility as the biological mother had not been in contact with the children for many years.
Despite the stepmother having been in the childrens’ lives for a number of years, and being married to the biological father, we still had to prove that the biological mother had been told about the court proceedings and the court allowed her the opportunity to consent to the application order or to involve herself in the proceedings and to object. She did not engage at all and eventually the court made an order that the children should live with the father and the stepmother which gave the stepmother parental responsibility.
In this case, because the parties were married, we also applied for a stand-alone Parental Responsibility order and the court granted both.
The courts will not allow adoption or grant Parental Responsibility under a ‘live with’ Order lightly, so you must be aware that the court could decide that such an order or application is not in the child’s best interests.
We do not offer legal aid for the legal process of adopting a child, so any application would be on a privately funded basis.