Adoption is a complex and sensitive topic. To coincide with National Adoption Week, Tanya Magell, associate solicitor at WHN, takes a look at the adoption process and breaks down some of the steps necessary when a step-parent is looking to adopt their partner’s child.

What is adoption?

When an adoption order is made, full parental responsibility for a child is given to the approved adopters. All legal ties between birth parents and child will be severed, so the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents throughout the child’s life.

An adoption order doesn’t end when the child turns 18, the child (now an adult) remains a legal member of their new family, permanently.

An order can only be made with the consent of the birth parents, or if the court has dispensed with the birth parents’ consent by making what is known as a placement order.

What steps will I go through to secure an adoption?

As you would expect, adoption is a highly complex process and we always encourage prospective adopters to get as much advice about the many issues they are likely to face during this long and challenging journey.

The process will begin with initial checks including police checks and a full medical examination. Referees will also be required to give an in-depth personal statement. This first stage usually takes around two months.

The next step usually takes around four months and involves taking part in training and assessments with a social worker. The assessment will then be sent to an independent adoption panel whose members will make a recommendation to an adoption agency about your suitability as a potential adopter. You will be able to attend this panel and ask questions.

If the agency decides you are suitable, it will refer you to a service that matches parents with children who are waiting for permanent homes. Once a placement is agreed, there will be further meetings to make sure that everyone involved has the support they need to make the adoption a success.

Following introductory sessions for adoptive parents to meet the child (around one to four weeks), it is a requirement of the courts that the child must live with the adopters for at least ten weeks before an adoption application is made. Once this time has passed, you can apply to legally adopt.

Is the process different for a step-parent?

A fairly common scenario sees a step-parent, who lives with one of a child’s birth parents, want to apply to legally adopt the child as their own.

The law here is really the same as for any other adoption. The prospective parents will need to give the relevant local authority where they live notice that they want to adopt. A report will be carried out and there will be an effort made to seek the consent of the other birth parent.

Once the application is made at court, a Children’s Guardian is appointed and again they will try and contact both birth parents and get written consent.

What if the birth parent doesn’t consent?

If it is not possible to get consent from birth parents, the court may dispense with consent as they would do in any other case.

This can be done for a few reasons – perhaps the birth parent is dead, cannot be found or if a court determines they are unable to carry out their parental responsibilities. The welfare of the child will naturally come first.

Tanya Magell is an associate solicitor based at WHN Solicitor’s Blackburn office. Tanya helps advise clients on a range of Family law matters including care proceedings, divorce and contact issues. To contact Tanya, call her on 01254 272640 or email