Step-parent adoption

There are many children who live within step-families. For most it may not be in their best interest to be adopted by their parents’ partner. If you are considering this option for a child you should look at your current situation, and why this might be in the child’s best interests to be changed.

Adoption in not necessarily appropriate in all step-parent situations. The Local Authority has a duty to investigate the circumstances and prepare a report to court of their findings. Once the child is adopted all legal links with their absent birth parent and wider family will be broken.

Remember also, that merely applying for an adoption order could change things. For example, if the other parent of the child/children is not currently in contact they may respond to your application for an adoption order by renewing their contact, often temporarily as a reaction to this. In such cases the well-being of the child, who faces the prospect of a second parting from one of their parents in the near future, may be harmed.

If you wish to adopt your partner’s child/children from a previous marriage or relationship so that you become the legal parent and have shared parental responsibility, here’s a step-by-step guide to the process.

Court Report/Assessment

When the North Wales Adoption Service receives the written notice of an application, it has to investigate and prepare a report to the court about the suitability of the person applying to be an adoptive parent. The report has to include:

  • Information about the child who is the subject of the application.
  • Information about the child’s family.
  • The wishes and feelings of the child and others.
  • Views of the other birth parent.
  • Information about the prospective adoptive parent.
  • Information about the local authority that compiled the report.
  • The implications of making an adoption order for the people involved.
  • The relative merits of adoption and other orders.
  • A recommendation regarding adoption.
  • A recommendation regarding contact with any significant others.
Background Checks

As part of the report / assessment The North Wales Adoption Service will need to conduct background checks with the following

  • Local Authority Check
  • Children’s Service Records including Child Protection Register
  • Disclosure and Barring Service
  • Probation
  • Care & Social Service Inspectorate Wales
  • Employer Reference
  • Personal References
  • School Feedback
  • Ex-partner – If one of the birth parents does not consent, a CAFCASS officer will be appointed as the Children’s Guardian (for court purposes only). They represent the child and ensure that the child’s views, as well as the views of all relatives, are known by the court before an order can be made.

If both birth parents have parental responsibility for the child (i.e. if the birth father is named on the child(ren’s) birth certificate or has a Parental Responsibility Order/Agreement or if the mother is married to the father), the court will appoint an officer or ask the local authority to interview and witness the birth parent’s consent. If a birth parent does not have parental responsibility, (if the father is not named on the birth certificate, or if there is no Parental Responsibility Order/Agreement in place or if the parents are not married, the local authority will seek his views wherever possible.

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is defined in s.3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:

“all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

The term Parental Responsibility attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.

What does Parental Responsibility mean in practical terms?

When certain decisions have to be taken about a child, all those with Parental Responsibility for the child are allowed to have a say in that decision. The decision will have to be about the upbringing of the child. Day to day decisions should be taken by the resident parent or the person with whom the child lives without interference from other Parental Responsibility holders.

In practical terms Parental Responsibility means the power to make important decisions in relation to a child. This can include:

Determining the religion the child should be brought up with. Where there is a mixed cultural background this should include exposure to the religions of all those with Parental Responsibility until the child can reach an age where he/she can make their own decision on this.

Determining the child’s education and where the child goes to school.
Choosing, registering or changing the child’s name.
Appointing a child’s guardian in the event of the death of a parent.
Consenting to a child’s operation or certain medical treatment.
Accessing a child’s medical records.
Consenting to taking the child abroad for holidays or extended stays.
Representing the child in legal proceedings.

Parental Responsibility does not mean that a parent has the automatic right to:

Contact with a child. This is the child’s right and not the right of the person with Parental Responsibility.
Know the whereabouts of other people with Parental Responsibility or where the child is living. In practice, this means that if the child lives with one parent the other parent does not have an automatic right to know the address of that parent. The parent can apply to the court for this to be disclosed and it may be disclosed if it is in the best interests of the child.

Who has Parental Responsibility?
  • Mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.
  • Married fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.
  • Unmarried fathers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
  • Stepfathers and Stepmothers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
  • Grandparents do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
Alternatives to adoption for step-parents

Alternatives that can give parental responsibility to a step-parent (which they share with the other parent/s) are Parental Responsibility Agreements, and legal orders such as Parental Responsibility Orders and Child Arrangements Orders (previously called Residence Orders).

A step-parent may make an agreement to obtain Parental Responsibility for his or her step-child providing all those with Parental Responsibility agree. The stepparent must be married to or be in a civil partnership with the mother or father to enter this agreement. This is similar to the Parental Responsibility Agreement and it will not take Parental Responsibility away from those who already have it. A step-parent could also apply for a Step Parental Responsibility Order if they are married to or in a civil partnership with the mother or father.

For more information please visit –  (Parental rights and responsibilities)

Child Arrangements Order

A Child Arrangements Order is an order that states where (with whom) a child will live. It gives parental responsibility to anyone named on the order, which they then share with the child’s parents.

While a Child Arrangements Order is in force no one is allowed to agree to adoption, change the child’s surname or remove the child from the country for over 28 days, unless everyone with parental responsibility agrees. If a Child Arrangements Order names a step-parent, they continue to hold parental responsibility if their partner dies.

For further information please visit –  (Apply for a court order)

Can I change my child’s surname?

To be able to change a child’s surname, all those who have Parental Responsibility will need to agree. If the Parental Responsibility holders do not agree, the parent seeking to change the name can apply to the courts to obtain its consent to the name change. The court would then have to make the decision on whether or not it will be in the best interests of the child.

If a parent with Parental Responsibility has been absent from the child’s life and is un-contactable it is possible to change the child’s surname without the consent of that parent, but you should seek permission to do so from the Court.

Once a child reaches the age of 16, they are able to change their name themselves.

For further information please visit –

If you’re interested in adoption, need additional support, or just want to ask us some questions, we’d love to hear from you.

You can also speak to an adoption worker for an informal chat, and we can then send you an information pack.

0800 085 0774