Written by Simon Dakers

Head of Family & Matrimonial at Gordon Brown Law Firm LLP

Simon is Resolution Accredited Specialist in Advanced Financial Provision, Private Children Law and Domestic Abuse. He is a member of the Law Society Children Panel (Children Representative) and the Law Society Family Law Panel. He was also admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor in New Zealand and an Independent Funding and Costs Adjudicator for the Legal Aid Agency.

It is an established part of modern family life that children often live with a natural parent and their husband or wife. A parent who is married to the mother or father of a child but, who is not their biological mother or father, is commonly referred to as a step-parent.

What rights do I have as a step-parent?

The rights and responsibilities of a step-parent looking after a child from their spouse’s previous relationship can often be misunderstood.

A step-parent can acquire Parental Responsibility (PR) which entitles them to have a say in major decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as religion, schooling and the giving or withholding of medical treatment. Although a PR Agreement can be entered, or an Order of the Family Court obtained, many prefer to adopt the child.

To apply for an adoption order a step-parent must be over 21, have lived in the UK or been resident for a year and be the partner (spouse or civil partner) of the parent whose child they wish to adopt.

In these circumstances, when an adoption order is made it will give PR to the adopter (the step-parent) of the child, removing it from any person other than his or her spouse. The PR of the natural parent (the adopter’s partner) is unaffected by the order, and the child will then be treated as if they had been born as the child of the step-parent.

This type of adoption is different to an adoption order made following the involvement of a local authority, as in those cases all family ties are severed between the child and both parents.

How do I apply to adopt my step-child?

To apply for an adoption order a step-parent must be over 21, have lived in the UK or been resident for a year and be the partner (spouse or civil partner) of the parent whose child they wish to adopt.

A step-parent must give their appropriate local authority at least three months written notice of their intention to apply to adopt the child. Once received, the local authority must arrange for an investigation of the application and consider the suitability of the step-parent and submit a report to the Court.

What happens next?

The child’s welfare is always the paramount consideration and the Court will consider factors such as the child’s wishes and feelings, as well as the likely effect on the child’s life if the order is made.

The Court cannot make a step-parent adoption unless it is with the consent of each parent with PR or the Court dispenses with the consent of anyone who is allowed or deemed by law to object. The Court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent unless it is satisfied that they cannot be found, they lack capacity (within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to give consent or the child’s welfare requires the consent to be dispensed with.

The application by a step-parent may be seen to be a proportionate measure if the non-consenting parent had not had care of the child, only had infrequent or no contact or there was a particularly well-established family unit in the home of the step-parent which had existed for a significant period of time.

Where there is a child from a previous relationship the daily functions of a family should be carefully considered. If in any doubt, advice should be sought on the options available to provide clarification on what specific decisions can and can’t be made by the non-biological (step) parent.




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    Are you considering adopting your partner's child?

    Talking to other parents who have been through the process would be sensible. You may well also want to get some legal advice in the first instance - a family law panel member will be able help you set out what options are available to you....

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