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Guide to Adoption

What is adoption? 

Domestic adoption is a legal process where an individual, or individuals, become the parents of a child that is not their biological child and in doing so acquire both the legal and parental responsibility of that child.  

Adoption provides a wonderful opportunity for many to become parents, including couples who cannot or do not want to have children naturally, step-parents wishing to have legal responsibility for their step-child and those wishing to formalise informal living arrangements when a child finds themselves without a suitable care-giver.  


Potential adopters can be single or part of a couple and must be at least 21 and domiciled or habitually resident in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. The child that is going to be adopted needs to be under the age of 18 years and cannot (and must not have been) married or in a civil partnership. Note that for private adoptions and adoptions of looked-after children there is a different set of rules. 

A couple for the purposes of adoption is defined by being married, civil partners or in an enduring family relationship. You do not need to be co-habitants to form an enduring family relationship but must display through your actions an unequivocal aim of creating and maintaining family life. 

For an adoption to be allowed, the birth parents must both agree unless one of the following apply: 

  • They cannot be located 

  • They are incapable of giving consent, for example, if they have a mental disability 

  • The child is at risk if they are not adopted 

It is worth noting that biological fathers do not inherently have parental responsibility for their children unless certain criteria are met. These include being married to, or subsequently marrying, the mother or being named as the father on the childs birth certificate. 

Process of adoption 

The process of adoption will vary depending on the type of adoption. The main types are: 

  • Agency 

  • Non-agency 

  • Convention adoption, which involves inter-country adoption and is governed by its own provisions, including the Hague Convention of 1993.  

Whilst agency adoption involves voluntary adoption agencies or local authorities acting as adoption agencies, non-agency adoption involves placements that are not orchestrated by either of these entities. Non-agency adoption therefore includes adoption of a child by their step-parent or other relative. This guide will focus on the process of agency adoption as this is the most common type of adoption.  

When a child has been submitted for adoption, the process begins with the relevant adoption agency, which will be either a Local Authority or voluntary adoption agency. It will be unsurprising to anyone looking to adopt, that the process is lengthy and can often be an emotionally challenging waiting game.  

Those wishing to adopt will first contact the adoption agency who will inform they of the process and arrange to meet with the potential adopter(s). If all parties agree to proceed, the the adopters will need to fill out an application. Once the application form is received, the potential adopters need to attend classes to understand the implications of adoption.  

They will then be visited by a social worker on several occasions who will perform an assessment to check their suitability to adopt. There will also be background checks collated via the police, health providers and personal references.  

The social worker will then compile a PAR (prospective adopters report), which is presented to the adoption panel. The potential adopters can attend this panel to answer any questions that arise from the PAR. The panel will consist of at least five members who generally give an immediate decision on whether they consider the applicants to be suitable to recommend for adoption.  

If the panel agree that the applicants are suitable adopters, the next stage is identifying a suitable child match. The potential adopters will attend a matching panel who can recommend that the prospective adopters and child be matched, but the final decision regarding matching ultimately comes down to the ADM (adoption agency decision-maker).  

Once the ADM has reached a decision, a mandatory ten-week placement commences where the child lives with the prospective adopters. This is a pre-requisite to the potential adopters applying to formally adopt the child.  

An adoption order gives the adopted parents parental rights and responsibilities for the child and formally dissolves any legal relationship between the child and their natural parents. After the application is received, there will be an initial and subsequent final hearing – pending any opposition from the childs birth parents – and it is at the final hearing that the adoption order will be made.  

Adopters can remain unknown to the childs birth parents if they wish and this has generally proven to be a popular request to allow the smoothest transition for the child into their new familial environment. However, it is possible to continue having contact between the birth family and adopted one. One way to do this is to send letter or photographs via the adoption agency once or twice a year to exchange information. Once an adopted child reaches 18 years, they have a legal right to request information about their birth family so they can make direct contact. 

After an adoption order is made, there will be a formal pronouncement of adoption. This is an opportunity for the adopters and their child to attend court alongside invited family and friends to witness their child receiving the adoption certificate naming them as parents and showing the childs new name.  

Legal advantages of adoption 

Aside from the enormous emotional fulfilment of adopting a child, there are legal benefits to adoption too. However, on adopting a child, the adopter will acquire parental responsibility for that child and therefore can make important decisions about that childs life including taking them out of the country for a prolonged period or changing their name.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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