It is not all that unusual for stepparents to want to adopt their partner’s child or children – for a variety of different reasons.
Sometimes it is because the birth parent has died, become estranged from the child or was simply never part of their life. Other times it is because the step parent wants legal parenting rights. While most people’s minds automatically go to adoption in these situations, in some instances a Parenting Order may be a better option.
What you need to know about adoption
Adoption is final and there are long term implications for the child
- An adoption order makes you the permanent legal parent of the child and a new birth certificate is issued with your name on it.
- The child’s relationship with their birth parent’s family is legally and permanently severed, with the rights being granted to the adoptive parent’s family.
- The child will no longer automatically be entitled to their birth parent’s inheritance unless named in their will.
Adoptions are only granted in very specific circumstance
To apply for an adoption order you and your partner need to have been married or in a de facto relationship for at least two years. Even if you satisfy this requirement, you also need to be able to demonstrate that:
- A parenting order (see below) would not promote the best interests and welfare of the child as adequately as an adoption.
- The biological parent has died.
- There has been significant family violence perpetrated by the biological parent.
- The child has not had contact with the biological parent since birth.
- The biological parent has indicated that they do not want to be involved in their child’s life.
Applying for an adoption order
To apply for an adoption order you first need to provide supporting documentation and seek permission from the Federal Circuit Family Court of Australia to commence proceedings.
If approved, it will then be up to the County Court to decide whether an adoption order should be granted. The County Court will refer the matter to an Adoption Service who will prepare a report for the court to consider. This is a lengthy and difficult process, so we generally recommend parenting orders as a more appropriate solution unless your situation is unique.
What you should know about a parenting order
Depending on your reasons for wanting to adopt, and the circumstances surrounding them, you may find that a parenting order will provide the outcome you are hoping to achieve.
Applying for a parenting order is typically a far less complex and more cost effective option than adoption, that can resolve a range of issues including who the child lives with, spends time with, communicates with, and who has legal parental responsibility.
Unlike an Adoption Order, a Parenting Order:
- Is only valid until the child turns 18 years of age – however once the child turns 18, they can apply for you to adopt them without any other consent required.
- Award you equal and shared parental responsibility for the child – this means you can be involved in making decisions about which school the child attends, medical procedures, and allows you to do things like apply for passports and sign school forms.
- Can be changed, updated or altered – you can read more about when a parenting order can be changed over in this article.
- Does not sever the child’s legal tie to their birth parent.
- Does not automatically entitle the child to your inheritance – so it is important to make a provision in your will should you wish to do so.
Weighing up the options
Before applying for an adoption or parenting order it is important to weigh up your options and also the long term implications.