Adopting a stepchild is a big move; one that needs to be considered fully before any rash decisions are made. So, should you do it and how can you go about this big life step?
If you’re considering adopting a stepchild, it’s important that you’re fully aware of all the benefits and drawbacks before you make your decision.
Going through this process is a more difficult procedure than you might think, especially if the biological parent is still in the picture. If not, the process will certainly be easier, but there are still some factors to consider.
In this post, we’re going to lay out the benefits and drawbacks of adopting a stepchild, and give you an idea of how to go about it. Then, we’ll be sharing some alternatives in case you decide it’s not the right thing for you.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Adopting a Stepchild?
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already spent some time contemplating whether adopting a stepchild is the right move for you. To help you make this decision, we’re going to give you a quick list of pros and cons.
Advantages of Adopting a Stepchild
If you decide to adopt a stepchild, you’ll enjoy the following benefits:
- They would be recognised as your legal child under English and Welsh law, the same as if you were their birth parent.
- It can create some stability for the child, especially if they have an absent mother or father, or one they don’t see often enough to play that role in their lives.
- Any legal hold the previous parent had over the child will be severed, which is beneficial in a situation where that parent was an unstable element in their life. This doesn’t mean the parent can’t see the child, just that they won’t have any legal right over them.
- The stepchild, as well as other members of the family, will be able to legally change their surname. This can help the child become closer to you, and any children they have in the future will bear your name.
- The stepchild will share rights of inheritance with any other children you have, without you having to draft a suitable Will for this.
Disadvantages of Adopting a Stepchild
Now that we’ve given you reasons to adopt a stepchild, it’s time to share the other side so you have an idea of the problems you might run into.
- Once a child is adopted, the law no longer recognises the other birth parent or members of their family. This can be awkward if the family of that parent are good people who want to remain members of the child’s family.
- The child will also lose their right to inheritance from their previous family, unless expressly written in a separate Will. You wouldn’t want to disadvantage your child by cutting them off from a lucrative inheritance, so it’s worth keeping in mind.
- If, for some reason, you and the birth parent you’re adopting the child for end your relationship, you will still be a legal parent of the child. This comes with all the issues you’d expect from a broken family.
If you’re still interested in adopting a stepchild after reading through these points, it’s time to move on to the next step.
How Do I Adopt a Stepchild?
Before you decide whether it’s worth going through this process, it’s a good idea to be aware of what’s involved. After all, it’ll be the same sort of process for adopting any child, so there’s a lot to think about.
The Criteria for Adoption
You must be over the age of 21 to adopt, and if you’re not married to the child’s parent, a court will need to decide whether you are living in an enduring family relationship. On top of this, you need to have been living as a family for six months before applying for adoption.
Where Do I Make the Adoption Application?
If you’re adopting a stepchild, you have to make your application to either the Family Proceedings Court, the County Court or the High Court. You have to pay your adoption fees at the point of application, which isn’t refunded if you change your mind or if the court decides not to grant you an adoption order.
Before you make your application, however, you have to formally tell the Local Authority children’s department of your intention to adopt three months in advance. This is so they can appoint a social worker to create a detailed report for the court about the child.
This report will include the child’s family circumstances, information about you and your partner, and the social worker will need to meet you and the child to see if you’re suitable as an adoptive parent.
What Does the Court Do?
Once you’ve made your application, and a social worker has assessed your family situation, the court will decide whether you can adopt your stepchild. They need to decide what’s best for the child, and whether the natural parents agree to the adoption. If they do, they will appoint an officer from CAFCASS to interview them and witness their formal written consent.
However, if the parent you’re replacing doesn’t have parental responsibility, their consent isn’t needed for the adoption order. There are exceptional circumstances in which the parent has a close connection with the child, where the court will find out their views along with the child’s before they make a decision.
Basically, when adopting a stepchild, everyone has to be on board or it’s unlikely your adoption will go through.
Are There Any Alternatives to Adoption?
If you’ve read the above and decided adopting a stepchild is too difficult, or that you don’t think you’ll be granted one, there are some alternatives to consider.
Parental Responsibility Agreement
If you’re married or are in a civil partnership with the child’s biological parent, they can make an agreement to share their parental responsibility with you. But again, as with everything you’ve read so far, if the child has another parent with responsibility, they need to consent to this as well.
Once you get consent from everyone with parental responsibility for the child, your agreement has to be submitted to the court to be turned into a Parental Responsibility Order.
This kind of agreement has its perks, especially in a situation where you want to be legally bound to your stepchild, but you don’t want to take responsibility away from any of the current parents.
Parental Responsibility Orders
There are situations where you can’t get consent from all parties with parental responsibility. If this happens, you can apply for a Parental Responsibility Order anyway. That said, the court would have to follow a similar route to adoption and assess what’s best for the child.
Even if you do manage to get this order confirmed, you’d end up being stuck in a three-way tie between a parent you are involved with and another parent who never wanted you to have responsibility over the child. In this instance, adopting a stepchild actually seems less painful in the long run.
Child Arrangements Orders
This last option is for those who want to basically adopt a stepchild but have neither of the natural parents involved. If the court grants you a Child Arrangements Order, the child will be ordered to live with you, and you will automatically be granted parental responsibility.
This is ideal if the parent you were involved with is unfit to look after them and you still want to raise the child. It’s also ideal for situations where your partner has died, and you don’t want parental responsibility to lie with an unfit parent who was never involved with the child.
Should You Adopt Your Stepchild?
In this post, we’ve managed to cover the benefits and drawbacks of adopting a stepchild, how you go about it, and what the alternatives are if you don’t want to adopt.
When it comes to adopting a stepchild, it’s all down to your individual situation. Adoption is probably better in situations where the parent you’re replacing wants nothing to do with the child or is out of the picture altogether.
If you don’t feel comfortable adopting your stepchild, there are enough alternatives for you to still share some legal rights over them without having to commit to adoption. Hopefully this post has given you enough to think about, and you’re ready to make a decision on whether or not to go ahead.