Who is allowed to adopt?
People aged 21 or over can adopt a child. There is no upper age limit. There are no limitations on relationship status - people can adopt if they are single, married, in a civil partnership, living as an unmarried couple, or if they are the partner of the parent of the child who is being adopted.
Adopting in the UK is not restricted to British citizens but:
the prospective adoptive parent (or their partner, if a couple) must have a fixed and permanent home in the UK
the prospective adoptive parent (and their partner if a couple) must have lived in the UK for at least one year before applying for adoption
What is the adoption process?
The first step is to contact an adoption agency (which is part of the local council) or a voluntary adoption agency to find out about their particular adoption process. The agency will meet the prospective adoptive parent(s) and this will lead on to the formal adoption application.
Once a formal adoption application has been received by an agency, the agency will normally invite the prospective adoptive parent(s) to a series of classes that provide advice about adoption and the effects it can have on you.
The next step is a series of visits by a social worker who will assess the suitability of the adoptive parent(s), followed by a police check. Three referees will then need to provide personal references (only one of whom can be a relative) and, finally, the prospective parents must undergo a full medical examination.
The assessment will be sent to an independent adoption panel. The panel may ask further questions before submitting a recommendation to the agency, which will then decide on the suitability of the adoptive parent(s).
If the agency approves the adoption, the adoptive parent(s) will be referred to the Adoption Register for England, National Adoption Service for Wales or Scotland's Adoption Register.
If the agency refuses the application, prospective adoptive parent(s) can challenge them in writing or apply to the Independent Review Mechanism, for England and Wales, or the Care Inspectorate, for Scotland. Or, they can apply again to a different agency.
The approval process normally takes about six to eight months overall.
How do you get parental rights and responsibility?
England and Wales
After the adoption has taken place, and the child has lived with their adoptive parent(s) for at least 10 weeks, an application for an adoption court order should be made to a Family Court using Form A58. This will confer parental rights and responsibilities upon the adoptive parent(s), provide them with an adoption certificate, and make the adoption fully legal and permanent.
After the adoption has taken place, and the child has lived with their adoptive parent(s) for at least 13 weeks, an application for an adoption court order should be made to a Sheriff Court using Form 1. This will confer parental rights and responsibilities upon the adoptive parent(s), provide them with an adoption certificate, and make the adoption fully legal and permanent.
Before such an application can be granted, the child must be at least 19 weeks old. If the child is over the age of 12, their formal consent to the adoption is required.
Can employees take paid leave to adopt?
Parents who adopt a child have similar employee rights to parents who give birth. Most employees are entitled to at least 52 weeks of adoption leave and at least 39 weeks of adoption pay (at various different rates). Some employers will provide enhanced entitlements for leave and pay, which may have extra eligibility criteria attached.
For more information about these entitlements and their eligibility criteria, read Adoption leave and pay.
What are the rights of birth parents?
The child's birth parents must give consent to the adoption unless:
they are absent and cannot be found
they do not have the mental capacity to provide consent (eg due to a mental health condition)
the child would otherwise be at risk
the court decides that their consent is not needed (Scotland only)
How can a step-child be adopted?
The local council should be told if a step-parent wishes to adopt their step-child. This should be done at least three months before any application for an adoption order and the step-parent should have lived with the step-child for at least six months. An adoption assessment will then need to take place, which is broadly similar to the general adoption assessment described above. An adoption court order will generally remove parental responsibility from the other birth parent (ie the parent who is not living with the child) - so they either have to agree to the adoption or the court will need to make a decision.
What are the rules for adopting a child from abroad?
To adopt a child from overseas, prospective adoptive parents must contact their local council or a voluntary adoption agency that handles overseas adoption. The adoption process is broadly the same as for adopting a child from the UK but the relevant overseas adoption authority will also be involved.
There are certain restrictions and fees when adopting from abroad - see GOV.UK for more information.
Can you adopt via surrogacy?
Surrogacy is when a person carries and gives birth to a child for somebody else (ie the ‘intended parent(s)’). A child born via surrogacy is legally the birth parent’s child when they are born, but they can be adopted using either a parental order (if the child is genetically the intended parent(s)’ child) or an adoption order (if they are not). If you apply for an adoption order within 6 months of the child’s birth, you will have many of the same rights as a parent going through the usual adoption process.
For more information on surrogacy and the surrogacy process, read Surrogacy.
Can you adopt by fostering a child?
You can also adopt a child by ‘fostering to adopt’. This is when prospective adoptive parents foster a child while the child is still going through local council care proceedings. Adopting in this way helps to place children with permanent families without unnecessary delay. If you foster to adopt, you will usually get the same adoption allowances (ie leave and pay) as you would for standard adoption.