An adoption order is an order conferring parental responsibility for a child to the adopter(s) and at the same time operates to extinguish the parental responsibility which any person had for the child immediately before the making of an order. Once an adoption order is made the child is deemed to be the adopters’ legitimate child. The relevant English statute governing adoption is the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This Act introduced the right for same sex couples and heterosexual cohabiting couples to adopt.

Anyone who is over the age of 21 and either domiciled in the UK or habitually resident for at least one year can adopt under English law. Certain criminal offences may disqualify someone from being able to adopt. Sometimes your legal right to live in the UK may also be relevant to your ability to adopt under English law.

Adults cannot be adopted, the adoptee must be under the age of 18 when the application is made, although an adoption order can then still be made before their 19th birthday.

Couples and single persons can adopt. Couples do not need to be married or in a civil partnership but they need to be in an ‘enduring family relationship’. It is not possible to adopt as a single adopter if you are married, unless you are permanently separated or your spouse cannot be found.

If you want to be approved as adopters, you will need to be assessed by social services or an authorised adoption agency. Private adoptions are not permitted under English law.

The route to adoption will depend on your circumstances – whether the child already lives with you, whether social services have placed a child for adoption, or whether you want to be assessed as adopters for a yet unidentified child.

Inter-country adoption

Adoption from abroad is a complex process. There are strict rules to follow if you live in the UK and want to adopt a child from abroad, and a criminal offence may be committed if they are not.

You can adopt under English law, even if you do not currently live in the UK, as long as you have go the relevant connection to the UK and previously lived here.

The making of an adoption order may bestow British citizenship on your child.

Adoptions from some countries are restricted and the Department for Education which oversees intercountry adoptions in England and Wales publishes and updates a list of those countries on a regular basis – currently on the list are Nigeria, Haiti, Nepal, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Cambodia. If you have already adopted or are intending to adopt a child from a restricted country, get legal advice first or as soon as possible.

Adoption of a relative’s or spouse’s child

There is no prohibition on kin adoptions under English law but if you are intending to adopt a relative’s child from abroad, you should get legal advice first.

It is also possible to adopt your spouse’s child but this can be quite complex and seeking early legal advice as to your options is highly advisable.

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