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How To Adopt Your Stepchild

Many people who become stepparents love their stepchild deeply and want to cement their relationship by formally adopting them. This is a substantial step, which differs from other arrangements such as 'parental responsibility', which provides decision-making authority but does not affect the child's legal relationship with their biological parent/s. To help you understand the consequences and process of stepchild adoption, we have answered some of the most frequent questions we receive about the subject below.

Who can adopt a stepchild?

The first step in the adoption process is understanding who can adopt. In England and Wales, the adoptive stepparent must be at least 21 years old. There are no maximum age limits but the ability to provide a stable, caring environment throughout the child's minority is a vital consideration. The child must have lived with their biological parent and stepparent for at least six months.


What are the benefits of adopting my stepchild?

Stepchild adoption ends the legal ties between the child and the biological parent who is not married or in a civil partnership with the adopting stepparent, and the child will usually take the surname of the stepparent. The child will have the same rights as any biological child of yours, such as the right to inheritance.

What is the procedure when adopting a stepchild?

The first step is to inform your local authority of your intentions to adopt your stepchild. This must be done at least three months before you make an adoption application. An assessment period will follow, during which a dedicated social worker will consider the potential implications of the proposed adoption on all parties involved and prepare a report for the Court. This report is integral to the adoption process as it provides the Court with an impartial insight into the potential benefits and detriments of the proposed adoption.

When the assessment is completed, an application for an adoption order can be made to the Family Court. All parties directly affected by the adoption, such as the biological parents, must be informed.

If the Court grants the adoption order, the stepparent becomes the child's legal parent along with their spouse/partner, the child's biological parent. It’s important to note that adoption is irrevocable; once an adoption order is made, it cannot be reversed, underlining the seriousness and permanency of this process.

01 August 2023
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Can a stepchild refuse to be adopted?

Yes, a child can refuse a stepparent adoption if they are deemed capable of understanding what adoption means and its implications. Typically, a child aged 10 or above is capable of such understanding, although this can depend on the individual child's maturity and comprehension.

As part of the adoption process, the Court is required to consider the wishes and feelings of the child in question, in light of their age and understanding. This is often facilitated through an interview conducted by a social worker or a Children's Guardian (appointed for the child under the Children Act 1989).

If the child does not want the stepparent to adopt them, this would be a highly relevant factor in the Court's decision-making process. While the child's wishes do not dictate the outcome, they do have a significant impact. The Court will evaluate the child's views against what it believes, after weighing up all the circumstances of the application, the child’s best interests.

Final words

While adoption by a stepparent provides stability and certainty for all parties, there may be alternatives that could be more appropriate, depending on the family's circumstances. For example, a stepparent could apply for a Child Arrangements Order, determining with whom a child is to live or spend time, or for a Special Guardianship Order, which provides legal stability without severing the ties with the biological parent.

For these reasons, it is crucial to have open and honest conversations with the child about their feelings and thoughts on the adoption process. Professional support, such as counselling or mediation, can also be beneficial in helping everyone involved make a decision that puts the welfare of the child first and foremost.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey. We have an experienced team of family law Solicitors who can assist you with any legal matter relating to children, including stepparent adoption. To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.[EW1] 

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