Step Parent Adoption
Tina Shah

Step Parent Adoption

Adopting your partner’s children is often referred to as step parent adoption. Legally there are clear consequences of adopting in this way. It means that the person adopting takes on full parental responsibility for the child.  

A decision to adopt your partner’s child must be given a lot of consideration. Social Services will be involved to help decide if adoption is what is best for the child. Everyone concerned would be interviewed as part of the process, including you and your partner, the child, the child’s other birth parent and grandparents. 

Impact of an Adoption Order 

If an adoption order is made, all legal links between the child and the birth family are cut. The rights of the other biological parent are extinguished. The child will lose all inheritance and maintenance rights from their birth family unless this is stipulated in a will. You should talk to the child about this decision and consider their feelings. Even very young children will have some level of understanding so it is important to speak to them first. 

An Adoption Order, therefore, has far reaching consequences and once it has been lawfully made, it is only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances that the Court will allow it to be set aside. The child would be treated in law as if they had been born to the partner applying. This would mean for example that any half siblings within the step parental family would become full siblings. 

What do I need to do to adopt my partner’s child?

Firstly, you need to meet the following criteria: 

  • You must be 21 years old or over. 
  • You must be married to the resident birth parent, or can satisfy the court that there has been a long-standing family relationship (usually at least a year). 
  • You must be a resident of the UK or have been habitually resident for at least a year. 
  • You must have continually lived with the child for at least six months. 
  • The child must be under the age of 18 at the time of the application to court. 

A Court cannot make a step-parent Adoption Order unless it is with the consent of both biological parents. Consent would mean consent given unconditionally and with a full understanding of what is involved. The Court can only dispense with consent if, for example, the biological father cannot be found or lacks mental capacity or the child’s welfare would require the consent to be dispensed with. 

The Court will only make an order if it considers it to be in the child’s best interests.  

Alternatives to Adoption 

There are other legal orders that can be made which may provide you with the rights and parental responsibility you seek without the need to apply for an adoption order.  

Parental Responsibility Agreement/Order 

This is the simplest option where agreement can be reached by both birth parents and this order gives the partner parental responsibility. Formal agreements can also be made for partners who are married to or entered into a civil partnership with the parent of a child. 

Change of Name 

If the motivation for the partner adoption stems from the desire for a child to legally change their name to reflect new family circumstances, this can be done through a solicitor with the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility. You can find out more about this through or read our article - Changing a child's surname

Special Guardianship Order 

Special Guardianship provides a legally secure foundation for building a permanent relationship between the child and their special guardian, while preserving the legal link between the child and their birth family. The intention is that the special guardian will have clear responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions about caring for the child or young person and their upbringing. The child’s birth parents remain legally the child's parents, though their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is limited. 

Child Arrangement Order 

This will give the person caring for the child parental responsibility. If the Order were to state that the child should reside with their birth mother and her partner (for example) then this would give the mother’s partner parental responsibility.  However, this does not give the mother’s partner all the same rights as a parent.  

If you have any questions about adoption or any other aspect of family law, please do get in touch on 0330 0945 500, email or complete our Online Contact Form and we'll get back to you.