Parents and child
Adoption  |  Child law  |  Family law

Step-Parent Adoption

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Walker Family Law
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A separated parent often forms a new relationship, creating a new family unit with their children and new partner. In such circumstances the new partner or spouse may, if the new family endures, wish to adopt the children, assuming that the parent with whom they live agrees. This is known as a ‘step-parent adoption’ (even if the separated parent and their new partner do not marry), or a ‘partner adoption’.

As we explained here recently in this post, the court will only be able to make the adoption order if the child’s other biological parent consents, or if the court dispenses with their consent.

The court can only dispense with their consent if they cannot be found, they are incapable of giving consent, or the welfare of the child requires their consent to be dispensed with.

In many step-parent adoptions the other biological parent, most commonly the father, cannot be found, and in some other cases they will give their consent, or be incapable of giving consent.

But sometimes they will oppose the making of the adoption order, in which case an adoption order will only be made of the court considers that it is in the best interests of the child to dispense with their consent.

A rare reported example of an opposed step-parent adoption occurred just recently, and illustrates how the court approaches such cases.

Becoming the legal parent

The case concerned a step-father’s applications to adopt his wife’s four children, the oldest of whom was 18 and the youngest in the final year of primary school.

He wished to adopt the children so that he would become their legal parent and the children would be treated in the future as being of the relationship that he had with their mother.

The applications were vehemently opposed to by the children’s father.

Briefly, the background to the case was as follows.

The children’s parents separated in 2017. The children remained with the mother. Contact between the father and the children was inconsistent, although in August 2019 a contact order was made providing for the children spend time with the father each Tuesday and Thursday and on alternate weekends.

In October 2019 the mother returned the matter to the court, stating that the children no longer wanted to see the father.

A contact order was made in October 2020 in relation to the three youngest children, reducing the contact to twice a month.

In the event the two middle children only attended a handful of contacts, with this coming to an end in early 2022.

Contact with the youngest child stopped in September 2022.

Meanwhile, the mother and step-father had commenced their relationship in April 2019, with the step-father moving to live with the mother and children in October 2019. They were married on 1st July 2022.

There was no dispute that the step-father had played a very active role in the children’s lives, and a strong and stable family unit had been established.

The welfare of the children

As mentioned above, the court had to decide whether dispensing with the father’s consent would be best for the children’s welfare. To do this, the judge took into account all of the circumstances of the case, including the following particular matters:

1. The children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings, having regard to their age and understanding. The three older children all wanted the adoption order to be made, and did not wish to see their father. The youngest child also wanted the adoption order to be made, but did wish to see their father.

2. The fact that the father’s relationship with the children had been either non-existent or poor in quality for several years.

3. The fact that the step-father had effectively acted as the children’s father for some years, and that the children, particularly the older three, were determined for the step-father to be their father in every sense – socially, psychologically, and legally.

In the circumstances, the judge concluded that the welfare of each individual child throughout their respective lives would be best served by the children having a father who existed emotionally, practically, and legally, and that adoptions orders should be made. Accordingly, he dispensed with the father’s consent.

He did, however, make an order for the youngest child to have contact with the father, starting on a monthly supervised basis.

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