The making of an Adoption Order has significant implications for all concerned and permanently changes the legal relationship between adult and child.
An Adoption Order provides the adopter with Parental Responsibility. The order is final, and cannot be reversed.
The making of an Adoption Order removes Parental Responsibility from anybody who previously held it, and the adopters are treated as if they are the child's legal parents.
The Court will wish to avoid delay in making a decision, and therefore manages the adoption process once an application to adopt is made.
An application to adopt can be made in respect of any child under the age of 18. Such application can be made by a single person or a couple, and they have no specific requirements as to marital status. Commonly, applications are made by step parents.
You have to be at least 21 if you wish to adopt. There is no upper age limit, but age will be taken into account when matching potential adopters to children available for adoption.
The issue of consent is significant. Consent to the adoption order being made must be freely given by all those who hold parental responsibility, or alternatively, dispensed with by the courts.
A father who does not hold parental responsibility is not required to give his consent, but as a matter of practice, he will be consulted as part of the enquiry process by the adoption agency.
The adoption agency/local authority is required to investigate the home circumstances of the child, and family relationships, as part of its enquiries. An Adoption Order cannot be made until this has taken place.
Where an application to adopt a child is intended but the adoption agency has not been involved in the placing of the child with the prospective adopters (for example, a step parent adoption) notice must be given to the local authority of the intention to adopt.
The local authority must then investigate and report their findings to the Court. Such investigation is a wide reaching, and potentially revealing, and must consider the suitability of any proposed adopter..
The Court process involves the Court setting a timetable. It will appoint an Independent Guardian for the child who will submit a report to the Court to assist in its decision making process.
The Court may make other Orders in the alternative to an Adoption Order.
It may make a child arrangements order stating with whom the child should permanently reside (formally a residence order).In contrast to an Adoption Order, other holders of parental responsibility will continue to retain their parental responsibility, and thus it is shared. It is also important to remember that a Residence Order can be varied at a later date.
The Court may also make a Special Guardianship Order. This is similar to a Residence Order but it limits the exercise of Parental Responsibility of those persons who previously held it.
A Special Guardianship order can also be varied in the future, but there are restrictions on such variation applications.