The 6 steps to legally adopting your stepchildren

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If you or your partner have children from a previous relationship and you’re all living happily under one roof, then you might decide that the time has come to make your family more formal by adopting your stepchildren.

There are many reasons why you might want to go down this route. Legally, it can be helpful to define your stepchildren as your own, particularly if you intend to leave them your estate at a later date. Emotionally, you might consider them your own children in everything but name, so making it official can be a proud moment for the whole family.

If adopting your stepchildren is something at you want to do, then here are the steps you need to go through to make it happen.

Decide if it is the right decision

There are several factors to consider before rushing into a decision of such magnitude, even if you think you are certain. Firstly, you need to consider the wishes of the child – do they want to be potentially cut off in the eyes of the law from one half of their family? You need to seriously consider the implications of this decision, such as the fact that the other parent will no longer be expected to contribute financially to the child or whether an alternative to stepparent adoption might better suit your circumstances.

Inform your Local Authority

Three months before you submit any formal applications to adopt your stepchildren, you need to inform your Local Authority children’s department about your intentions. This allows them to assign a social worker to your case who will meet the family, discuss your circumstances and ultimately provide a report on your suitability to become a legal parent.

Apply for an adoption order

Once you’ve decided you want to initiate the adoption process and have informed the local authority, then you can get the ball moving by applying for an adoption order. You must be over 21 years of age to do this, and if you aren’t married to the child’s parents, then you’ll need to prove to the court that you and your partner are in an enduring family relationship in which you have been living together for at least six months. This application is then submitted to either the Family Proceedings Court, the County Court, or the High Court.

Tell the other parent

It’s imperative that you tell the other parent involved what is going on and what your intentions are. The court will have to consider the child’s connection with the other parent – even if there has been no contact for many years – as well as the potential impact on the wider family network such as grandparents, brothers and sisters and any significant others. It may be confusing for a young child, in particular, to discover as they grow up that they have no legal connection to one side of their family. By being upfront about your plans, you can avoid a potentially messy situation once the application reaches court.

Go to court

Ultimately, it is the court who will decide whether to grant your application, and they will base that decision on what they consider to be best for the child. If both natural parents have Parental Responsibility, then they will both be interviewed about the situation. Even if the other parent doesn’t have responsibility, the court will take into consideration their views. The views of the child will also be listened to via an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, whose job it is to represent what the child wants in court. With such a complicated and ultimately life-changing process, it can help to hire a trusted family law attorney Flint, ML to help you navigate the legalities and give your application the best chance of success.

Await a decision

The complexity of the case will inform how long it takes for the court to make a decision. If there is an agreement between both biological parents, the parent wanting to adopt, the child and the social worker, then the adoption can be relatively straightforward and rubber-stamped quickly. Usually, the court or your lawyer will be able to tell you if this is likely. On the other hand, if there is no agreement then the process can take longer. Those aforementioned interviews with the relevant parties have to take place to try and help the court come to a decision about what is best for the child’s welfare. In those circumstances, the court could approve your application, suggest one of those alternative options instead, or dismiss it for the time being. 

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