Understanding Adoption


As we approach National Adoption Week in October 2023, it may be helpful for those considering expanding their families to understand the legal basics of adoption.

Eligibility for or those considering expanding their families

Applications for adoption can occur when:

A. A child has been made subject to a ‘placement order’ (a court order allowing a local authority to place a child with a potential adopter or another third-party during care proceedings).

B. A birth parent has given consent for their child to be placed for adoption.

C. Private arrangements, where a child lives with a potential future adopter, such as a stepparent.

A child to be adopted must be under 18 when the application is issued, and the proceedings must conclude before they turn 19. The child must not have been married or in a civil partnership.

Who can Adopt

Those who wish to adopt can be a couple, including same-sex relationships. A couple can be married, in a civil partnership, or have an ‘enduring family relationship.’ Single persons can apply under certain circumstances. Single applicants must:

  1. Be resident in the UK for at least one year.
  2. Be domiciled in the UK.
  3. Be aged 21 and above (except in cases where one person in a couple is the child’s parent).

If a single person aged 21 or above wishes to adopt, they can apply if they:

  1. Are not married or in a civil partnership.
  2. Are the partner of a parent of the child.
  3. Are married or in a civil partnership, but the other person is missing, too ill, or they are separated.
  4. Are a natural parent (in limited circumstances, such as surrogacy).

Residency Requirements

A child to be adopted in the UK must live with potential adopters for a certain period:

  1. If placed by an agency, ten continuous weeks.
  2. In private adoption with the applicant as the parent’s partner, six continuous months.

In other private cases, the period may vary, requiring the child to be placed and live with the applicant for one year or a period of three years out of the five before an application is issued. The court can reduce these time periods in some cases.

Giving Notice and Online Applications

In private arrangements, potential adopters must give notice to the local authority of their intention to apply for an adoption order, which should be at least three months but not more than two years before issuing an application. Note that some circumstances require permission from the court to apply for an adoption order before giving notice to the local authority.

Since May 18, 2023, applications for adoption orders are made online through the His Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) Portal. The court will seek a report from the local authority or agency, including observations of potential adopters, criminal record checks, comments on the long-term welfare of the child, potential adopters’ health, financial information, current employment, and family tree, among other details.

The Effect of an Adoption Order

If an adoption order is granted by the court, the adopted child is treated under the law as though the adopter(s) are their birth parent(s). The adoptive parent(s) acquire parental responsibility for the child, and any prior parental responsibility is removed.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive explanation of the adoption process but aims to provide those considering adoption with an overview of who can be adopted, who can adopt, and the adoption procedure.

How Pinney Talfourd can help

Our Family team are ranked Tier One in the Legal 500 rankings and are well positioned to assist anyone who wishes to start a family through the adoption route. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

The above is meant to be only advice and is correct as of the time of posting. This article was written by Shevonne Weir, Solicitor in the Family team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of July 2023.


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