The process of adoption can be a very long one, and the legalities around parental responsibility can be complex. According to the CoramBAAf Adoption and Fostering Academy, 2,870 children were adopted in the UK during the 2020/21 year.
The relationship dynamic between the adoptee, adoptive parents, and biological parents can be complicated to navigate, and is always ‘determined by what is deemed to be in the best interests of the child’. Currently there is no legal requirement for adoptive families to maintain contact of any kind with the adoptee’s birth family once the adoption order has been finalised, but research by Adoption UK found 84 per cent of adoptive families had signed an agreement for ongoing indirect contact while a quarter have direct contact with birth family members.
In the UK, all mothers, and most fathers (depending on country), have the legal rights and responsibilities as a parent. Parental responsibility as defined in the Children Act 1989 encompasses “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 responsibility refers to the upbringing of the child. While all mothers have parental responsibility, only fathers who are married to or in a civil partnership with the mother automatically have parental responsibility.
In order to legally adopt a child, the adoptive parents must apply for an adoption order. This is an order which transfers full parental responsibility from the birth parent(s) to the approved adopters through court. Of course, a child’s birth parents will always be the biological parents, but the order ‘severs the legal ties between a birth parent and the child’ so that the adoptive parent(s) become the child’s legal parent(s). This process requires the consent of both parents. Each adoption case is different, and the time-consuming nature of the process is to ensure all parties consent and are satisfied with the arrangement.
Support for families
Adoption can be a very huge decision for families to make, and has life-long impacts on anyone involved. There are many post-adoption support services available to families. Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, local authorities in the UK have a duty to offer support for anyone affected by adoption however there are specialist agencies separate from the government offering support, counselling, and therapy.
In terms of legal support, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Family Rights Group offer free and confidential advice. However, in certain cases individuals may find themselves needing to seek legal advice from a specialist family lawyer.
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