Each blended family is unique and some will have more complex forms than others. In some families a step-parent may be the only mother or father figure that the child has and therefore they want to take the formal step of adopting their partner's children; whereas for other blended families there may be a number of active, caring parents and step parents and adoption is simply not the right step.
If you are a separated parent who would like their partner to adopt your child, or if you are thinking about adopting your step-child, you will have a number of questions, hopes and concerns.
What does adoption mean?
Adoption is the legal process where a parent and child relationship is created by court order. In adopting the child, the step parent will acquire the same legal rights and responsibilities to the step child as if he or she had been the child's natural parent. After the adoption is granted, the resident birth parent and their partner will share parental responsibility and rights for the child. The legal ties between the child and the absent birth parent are extinguished. The absent birth parent will no longer have the obligation to aliment the child and rights of inheritance will be lost.
When is adoption by a step parent appropriate?
Each situation is different and we would recommend that a step parent take legal advice about their particular circumstances. A child can be adopted up to the age of eighteen, provided that they have not been married or in a civil partnership. The child's view about the adoption is relevant and the child's consent is required if they are aged twelve or over.
In our experience, a step parent adoption is normally fairly straightforward where the step parent has been involved with the child for some time, their partner (the resident birth parent) supports the adoption and the absent birth parent has no contact with the child or is prevented from having contact with the child (for example due to significant child welfare concerns).
It is important to note that a child's legal ties with their absent birth parent and his or her family will be severed by an adoption. There are alternative ways of addressing the child's situation which may be better for some children for example seeking an order for parental responsibilities and rights.
Does the step parent need to be married to the child's parent?
No. The procedure in relation to adoption in Scotland changed within the last few years due to the Adoption & Children (Scotland) Act 2007. The Act made a number of changes to adoption in Scotland. The position now is that a step-parent who is living with their partner in an 'enduring family relationship' may adopt their stepchild. This includes cohabiting same-sex couples and civil partners.
Does the absent parent need to consent to the adoption?
Not always. In a limited number of situations the court may chose to dispense with a parent's consent. You should discuss your particular situation with an experienced family law solicitor.
What is the adoption process?
The first step is that the step parent must first notify their local authority in writing that they intend to apply for an adoption order. This notice must be given at least three months before the adoption is granted. Your solicitor will normally send this letter for you.
The local authority will then appoint a social worker to produce a report for the court. The social worker will meet with the step parent, the resident birth parent and all relevant persons to discuss the adoption application. The report will investigate the position with the absent parent if he can be found.
An adoption petition is then submitted to the local sheriff court. The court then appoints an individual known as a curator ad litem and a reporting officer who would be appointed to prepare an independent report on the suitability of the adoption proceeding. Depending on the age of the child, the child's views will be considered; if twelve or over, the child will be asked whether he or she consents to the adoption. Again, a recommendation for or against adoption is made at the conclusion of that report. The court will fix a preliminary hearing and that hearing is intimated to all relevant persons.
At the preliminary hearing the Sheriff, having considered the application and reports, might be persuaded to grant the adoption petition. In considering whether the grant the adoption, the Sheriff needs to be satisfied that the adoption of a step child is in the child’s best interests and will be best for the child throughout its life. In the event the absent parent does appear and opposes the adoption, a further hearing will be fixed at which evidence is heard from witnesses as to whether the adoption should proceed.