Family Law: Step-parent adoption
It is a privilege to be adopted by a step-parent.
It is difficult to find official statistics on the number of step-parent adoptions that occur in the United Kingdom because statistics focus primarily on the number of children adopted from the care system.
On the other hand, in my work as a family attorney and adoption specialist over the last few years, I’ve seen an increase in the total number of cases and inquiries pertaining to this topic.
Because adoption is such a broad and varied area of family law, each case presents its own set of challenges and rewards. This applies to both adoptive parents and adoptees. Covid-19 and the numerous lockdowns, on the other hand, have only served to complicate matters.
What exactly is it like to take on the responsibility of adopting a sibling?
Stepparental adoption occurs when the partner of one of the child’s biological parents expresses interest in adopting the child. When a child is adopted by a stepparent, one of the child’s biological parents must relinquish their parental rights and responsibilities.
This type of application is typically made when one of a child’s biological parents has been significantly absent from the child’s life for an extended period of time. Because the child’s other biological parent is in a new romantic relationship, the child is now raised by the new romantic partner rather than by the biological parent.
The other biological parent would not have been able to initiate contact with the adoptee if the adoption application had not been submitted; however, once the application has been submitted, they are free to do so.
When non-resident parents have even moderately consistent contact with their children, courts are less likely to grant adoption orders. [As an example:] The reason for this is that giving up one’s role as a parent has serious consequences.
Regardless of whether the non-resident parent agrees to the adoption, the court’s decision on the adoption order will be given significant weight.
Aside from the biological parents and stepparents, who else is involved in an adoption?
The applicant is the person who wishes to adopt their partner’s child; the first respondent is their partner; the second respondent is the other biological parent; and a guardian may be appointed to speak for the child. A stepparent is the applicant if they want to adopt their partner’s child.
In addition to the judge and legal counsel, the case will involve the local authority, which is in charge of drafting the initial report, as well as a reporting officer.
Put yourself to the test and see where you stand.
At the start of the pandemic, the family court prioritised work over step-parent adoption applications, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of step-parent adoption applications.
This impacted one of my cases, and the adoption petition wasn’t finally processed until the day before the child turned 18 due to a variety of unexpected circumstances.
Adoption applications for children under the age of eighteen (minors) will be considered exclusively. If the application is submitted before the child reaches the age of eighteen, the process can proceed and be completed successfully. If the child reaches the age of 19 before the case is completed, no final adoption order will be issued.
Given this, we were under pressure to submit the application before the teen turned 19 years old. Because of the strict deadlines that the court is required to adhere to in order to resolve child custody cases as quickly as possible, this should not be a major concern in the vast majority of cases.
Despite the fact that the family courts had a backlog of cases prior to the implementation of Covid-19, the backlog has significantly worsened over the past year.
The consequences of the bottlenecks
A number of factors have contributed to the delay we’ve experienced here. Before the adoption case can be heard by a judge, both the prospective adoptive parents and the child must submit to extensive background checks conducted by the local authority.
It is necessary to conduct interviews with a large number of people in order to compile this report. Furthermore, information about the child’s previous relationships, health, and finances, as well as the perspectives of all parties involved, including the child, must be gathered. The recommendation will be presented to the court for consideration at the end of the report.
If we need to collect medical evidence, the process could take longer. Medical reports are not required for an applicant if the applicant is the partner of a parent of a child receiving benefits, according to FPR Rule 14.12. (c). Waiting for medical evidence, on the other hand, may prolong the process if the prospective adoptive parent is a member of the same family, such as an aunt.
While the report is being written, safety checks are also being performed. Regrettably, the municipal government did not take the necessary precautions to ensure that everything was in order here. We learned that there would be a several-month delay while these procedures were carried out just a few days before the first scheduled hearing.
Because of the complexities involved, adoption cases are typically assigned to more experienced judges to preside over. It is also understandable that people would prefer to have the same judge throughout the duration of their case; however, due to the judiciary’s limited resources, this can cause delays.
The initial hearing for this matter was postponed four times in total, the first time due to the local authority, and the subsequent three times due to the judge in question being unavailable.
Again, under normal circumstances, this would not be cause for concern; however, we only had a year to complete the order. We had very little time to figure out what steps to take after the application was mailed out in the early summer, but the first hearing wasn’t scheduled until January of the following year.
In a normal circumstance, Annex Although the local government’s report has been submitted to the court, the parties will not have immediate access to it. If it is determined that time is of the essence in the case, it is possible to request that it be released prior to the first hearing.
The judge has granted us permission to publicly disclose the investigation’s findings prior to the initial hearing in this matter. Because the contents could be reviewed, the case could proceed without the need for a new hearing. If this request was denied, there was a chance that the matter would not be resolved before the child reached the age of 19.
Two geographical areas on opposite sides of the globe.
In this case, the adoptive stepparent and the child lived in England, while the child’s biological father and mother lived in different countries but agreed to the adoption order being issued. During this time, only the adoptive stepparent and the child were present in England.
It was difficult for the applicant and first respondent to show the court and the local authority that they were a married couple living in the same household. This was not an easy task to complete. Despite the fact that they were physically separated from one another, they made it a point to get together once every two months. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 report suggested it was a bad idea, it was pursued.
They were successful in demonstrating that the child had lived with the applicant for the six months preceding the application, which was required; however, due to the complexity of the stepparent applicant’s relationship with the first respondent, they were required to be more specific in their evidence than usual.
Foster child’s foster parent or guardian
Furthermore, the judge ordered the submission of an international guardian report because the parties involved were spread across three different countries. Despite the fact that the application had already been approved by all relevant parties, including the relevant local authority, this was still necessary.
The guardian was charged by the court with the responsibility of submitting a report on the ward’s living conditions and assisting it in obtaining all necessary permissions from all relevant parties.
The legal guardian reiterated that they were satisfied with their decision to carry out the order in this case. Regardless of the parties’ repeated assurances that they are in agreement with one another, any consents must be properly executed and documented.
Obtaining Legally Acceptable Consent During a Worldwide Pandemic
Even in the midst of a pandemic, informed consent can be provided via video call. Due to the fact that both the first and second respondent resided outside of the jurisdiction, it was determined that this could not be done in accordance with FPR rule 14.10. (6).
Sixth, any form of consent executed outside of the United Kingdom requires the presence of a witness in order to be valid.
a) any individual who was legally authorised to administer oaths in the jurisdiction where the document was executed at the time the document was executed for any judicial or other legal purpose at the time the document was executed;
in (b) a representative of the British Consular Service;
c) a public notarial representative who has been authorised to act in that capacity; or
If the person signing the document is a member of one of the Crown’s regular armed forces, they must meet one of two criteria: (a) they must be an officer in good standing; or (b) they must be an officer who is currently holding a commission in one of those forces.
At the moment, there is a wide range of legal approaches that can be taken to COVID-19. It was unclear whether the first and second respondent would be able to ensure that their consent was properly executed because it was unknown whether they would have access to a person who met the aforementioned requirements. As a result, there were concerns about the first and second respondents’ ability to ensure that their consent was properly executed.
To everyone’s delight, the adoption order was finalised and the child was adopted about two months before the child turned 19 years old.
Perhaps in the Not-Too-Distant Future, Adoption
Despite the fact that the pandemic has made adoption significantly more difficult, I believe that things will eventually return to normal, albeit at a slower pace than any of us would prefer.
Because adopting a child can have far-reaching legal ramifications, the process must be as thorough as possible. It is difficult to imagine a way to simplify the adoption process. While I believe that cases should be resolved as soon as possible, I also recognise the importance of making decisions that are in the best interests of the child.
Work involving child adoption can be extremely rewarding because it allows you to contribute to the formation of a family and change the course of a child’s life.