Step 3: Parties
1) Parents with parental responsibility
In order for an adoption to take place, the consent of those with parental responsibility for the child must be obtained (1).
Should it not be possible to obtain such consent, or should consent be refused, adoption is only able to occur if the Court agrees to dispense with this need for consent. Dispensing with this need for consent is something it may only do in certain specific situations. These circumstances are set out at s52(1) of the ACA 2002 and are discussed further later.
This means that if you have parental responsibility for a child, then for an adoption to proceed the Court must either receive your formal, written consent or decide that this need for consent can be dispensed with. If Children’s Services wish to organize the adoption of your child against your will, the Court will therefore be required to look closely into your circumstances and your child’s likely future with you to determine whether the circumstances of s52(1) of the ACA 2002 are met. In this situation, the adoption will be permitted only if it can be shown that these requirements are fulfilled.
Do I have parental responsibility?
If you are a child’s biological mother you automatically have parental responsibility for him(2). As such, for adoption to occur your consent must either be obtained or the need for it dispensed with.
If you are the child’s biological father you only have parental responsibility if you:
are married to the child’s mother;
are registered on the child’s birth certificate; or
have been formally awarded parental responsibility through either a Court order or a formal agreement with the child’s mother (3).
If none of these situations apply, then the Court will only be concerned with obtaining the consent of the mother to the adoption, unless you seek and are granted parental responsibility. Your views will generally be sought, and the possibility of the child living with you or members of your family considered, but the Court is not obliged to directly involve you with its proceedings as it must do the mother (4).
If you are the child’s mother, previous court cases suggest that you will need to provide Children’s Services with details about the child’s father so that he can be contacted (5). In exceptional circumstances the Court may waive this requirement: you should discuss this further with your social worker.
2) Adoptive parents
UK laws permit almost anyone who is over the age of 21 and lives in the UK to adopt (6). There are some other limited requirements which you must meet, which are explained in more detail by the websites included at the start of this article.
You may apply to adopt a child with whom you have no prior relationship or link, or you may apply to adopt a child to whom you are related, either through blood, marriage or long-term partnership.
Although this means that if you are a child’s step-parent you may seek to formally adopt him, most step-parents choose to apply for a child arrangements order rather than an Adoption Court Order. Briefly explained, a child arrangements order awards parental responsibility of a child for a set period of time without removing such responsibility from anyone else, as well as determining where a child lives and what time and contact the child has with his other parent(s). This means that a child arrangements order will give you a formal relationship with the child without removing parental rights and responsibilities (including financial obligations) from the non-resident biological parent. Child arrangements orders have replaced residence orders under the changes made to the ACA 2002.
3) Professional bodies
Adoption agencies are either privately run or act under the control of the local authority. If you wish to adopt a child who has no prior relationship or link with you, you will generally need to use such an agency. You will be assessed by your chosen agency according to its procedures as to your suitability, and then, if approved, you will be matched with a child.
The agency continues to be involved throughout the adoption process and has a number of duties towards the Court which it must fulfil. It is therefore very important that you work with an agency with which you feel comfortable and whose values and goals match your own.
If you already have a relationship with the child you wish to adopt (either as a step-parent, other relative or through fostering), you generally will not need to use an adoption agency, provided you have lived with the child for a specific length of time. This amount of time is different for each situation.
If you are the child’s relative or foster parent, you and the child must have lived together for at least three years out of the previous five.
If you are the child’s step-parent, however, you must have been living with the child for at least six months.
If you fulfil the relevant time requirement then you must notify your local authority of your intention to adopt at least three months before your application to the Court.
The child may be joined as a party to the adoption process in a number of situations. These include:
where those with parental responsibility have been permitted by the Court to oppose the making of an adoption order;
where the child himself does not consent to the adoption; and
where an officer of the Court recommends that a child be joined as a party to the adoption (7).
(1) s52 ACA 2002
(2) s2(1) Children Act 1989 (CA 1989)
(3) s4 CA 1989
(4) Regulation 14 of the Adoption Agencies Regulation 2005
(5) Re A (Father: Knowledge of Child’s Birth)  EWCA Civ 273
(6) ss50 and 51 ACA 2002
(7) Practice Direction 14 of the Family Procedure Rules, Rule 14.3