Step Parent Adoption – A Short Guide

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In England and Wales, step parent adoption is governed by the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This act allows step-parents to apply for adoption orders their partner’s child or children. If granted, they are provided with the same parental rights and responsibilities for the child as biological parents.

Eligibility and conditions

Relationship to the child’s parent:

The step-parent must be married to the resident birth parent. They may alternatively be in a civil partnership with, or the unmarried partner of one of the child’s legal parents.

Age Requirements:

The step-parent must be at least 21 years old. There is no upper age limit, but the welfare of the child throughout their life is considered. This may include the age difference between the child and the adopting step-parent.


Consent is required from both parents with parental responsibility unless:

  • The parent cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent.
  • The child’s welfare would be put at risk by contact with that parent.
  • The court dispenses with the consent for another reason, such as unreasonable withholding of consent.

Child’s domicile or habitual residence:

The child must be domiciled in the UK or have been habitually resident in the UK for at least six months immediately preceding the application for adoption.

Duration of Relationship:

  • The child must have lived with the step-parent and their partner for at least six months before the application is made.

Process of Step-Parent Adoption

Notification to Local Authority:

Before making an adoption application, the step-parent must inform their local authority of their intention to apply for adoption. This notice starts a two-month period before the application can be formally made, during which the local authority assesses the suitability of the adoption.


The local authority conducts an assessment. This includes visits to the home and interviews with the step-parent, the child, and other relevant parties. The local authority then prepares a report for the court, advising on the proposed adoption.

Application to Court:

After the assessment and upon completion of the two-month period, the step-parent can formally apply to the family court for an adoption order.

Court considerations:

The court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child throughout their life. The court considers all the child’s circumstances and, in particular, must consider certain aspects known as the ‘welfare checklist’ which includes the child’s needs, likely effect of the adoption on the child, and any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.

Legal effect of an Adoption Order:

An adoption order extinguishes the parental responsibility of any other person except for the partner of the adoptive step-parent. The adoptive step-parent is treated in law as if they were the child’s birth parent.

Parental Responsibility Order

An alternative to adoption is for the step parent to apply to the court for a parental responsibility agreement. This is a court order that grants parental responsibility to an individual who does not automatically have this right.

Legal Implications


  • Change in parental responsibility: Adoption transfers full parental responsibility to the step-parent. They will share parental responsibility with the other parent.
  • Legal relationship: Legal ties with the non-custodial biological parent are severed unless that parent is the partner of the step-parent. This can affect inheritance rights and the legal recognition of familial relationships.

Step parent adoption recent case law

H (Step-Parent Adoption: Human Rights), Re [2023] EWHC 3186

The case involved an adoption application by a stepfather for his stepson, “H”, following the death of H’s mother.

The stepfather applied for adoption under section 51(2) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. However, the mother’s death complicated the application as she was no longer alive to be considered a “partner.”

The court was urged to interpret section 51(2) flexibly, to include cases where the parent-partner had passed away, which required “reading down” additional words into the statute under section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The court received extensive legal submissions about interpreting the adoption statute in a way that respected human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The court noted the significant role the stepfather had played in H’s life and recognised the psychological and social parent-child relationship already existing between them.

There was a detailed exploration of the legislative intent behind adoption laws, emphasising that the laws should facilitate the maintenance of existing family relationships rather than disrupt them.

The judge agreed to interpret the law in a manner that allowed the stepfather’s adoption to proceed, highlighting the importance of stability and continuity in H’s life.

The court granted the adoption order, modifying the interpretation of section 51(2) to accommodate the unique circumstances presented by the mother’s death. The decision emphasised the court’s role in protecting the welfare and rights of children across their lifespan, not just during minority.

This case is notable for its interpretation of adoption laws in light of human rights considerations, specifically the rights to family life under Article 8 of the ECHR. It underscores the judiciary’s willingness to adapt legal provisions to the realities of modern family dynamics and the paramount importance of child welfare in family law.

How can Expert Family Law assist


The adoption of a step child can be a complex process, which is why it is often advisable to have a solicitor on your side.

Expert Family Law have a panel of solicitors who can assist on all family law cases, including step parent adoption.

Please note that we are not a firm of solicitors. We have a panel of family law firms who we may pass your case on for a fee. Expert Family Law will not charge you, the client, for our service of passing on your case.


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