do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents
Adoption  |  Child law  |  Family law

Do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents?

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Do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents?

There are about 4,000 adoption orders made each year in England and Wales. For those children, adoption is of course transformative. But what exactly does it mean for the adoptive parents? Do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents?

do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parentsIn a sense the question is not the right one to ask, as we no longer talk of ‘parental rights’, but rather of ‘parental responsibilities’. Nevertheless, for the purpose of this post we will use the term ‘rights’, as that is still in common usage.

Before we answer the question as to whether adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents, we first need to consider just what ‘rights’ a biological parent has.

What rights does a biological parent have?

We said above that the law now refers to ‘parental responsibilities’ rather than ‘parental rights’. This was a major change in emphasis brought about by the Children Act 1989.

Somewhat confusingly, however, the Act defines ‘parental responsibility’ as “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.”

OK, that definition doesn’t really take us much further. What exactly are these rights, duties, powers and responsibilities?

Well, the law does not list them. In fact, it may not even be possible to provide a comprehensive list. However, the following are generally accepted as being included in the definition:

  • The duty to maintain the child.
  • The duty to educate the child, including the right (so far as it may exist) to choose what school the child attends.
  • The right to choose the child’s religious upbringing.
  • The right to make decisions in relation to the child’s medical treatment.
  • The right to choose the child’s name.
  • The right to choose where the child lives.
  • The right to take the child abroad.

Note that if more than one person has parental responsibility for the child then most of these decisions need to be taken jointly by everyone with parental responsibility, and any dispute between them over a decision can be decided by the court.

It should also be noted that if the parents are not married then only the biological mother will automatically acquire parental responsibility, although the biological father will usually acquire it later.

So what rights do adoptive parents have?

Having established what rights biological parents have over their children we can now turn to the question of what rights adoptive parents have.

And the answer is actually very simple.

An adoption order gives parental responsibility for the child to the adoptive parents, and takes it away from the biological parents (except in the case of a step-parent adoption, where the step-parent’s partner retains parental responsibility).

Thus the adoptive parents will have the same rights in relation to the child as the biological parents had.

What is more, the adoption order is permanent – i.e. the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents throughout life, not just until the child reaches 18. The adopted child is deemed to be the adopter’s legitimate child and, if adopted by a couple, is treated as the child of their relationship, and is not the child of any other person.

And adoption orders are irrevocable. Where the relationship between the adoptive parents breaks down they will still retain parental responsibility.

So is that it?

Well, there is perhaps one other thing to mention.

Before making an adoption order, the court must consider whether there should be arrangements for allowing any personal contact with the child, for example, members of the child’s birth family.

There is no legal requirement for adoptive families to maintain contact of any kind with their child’s birth family after the adoption order is made. The court can, however, make a contact order if it considers that appropriate, although that is rare, and it will prefer contact arrangements to be agreed voluntarily between the two families.

Subject to that, however, adoptive parents are legally in the same position as biological parents.

We hope this article clarifies any ambiguity when it comes to the question, do adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents? However, should you require any additional clarification or help with this matter, please contact us for more information. Additionally, you may find our child-law page helpful.

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Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce law, child-law and arbitration.