Often step parents who have a close bond with their step children would wish to legally adopt them in order to acquire full legal responsibility with their step child. In family law it is now possible to acquire Parental Responsibility for a child without going through the lengthy and often costly process of adoption.
Under amendments to the Children Order (NI) 1997 a step parent may now apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. This new right of application only applies to a step parent who is married to a child’s parent who themselves has parental responsibility for the child. In family law if a Court provides Parental Responsibility to the step parent then they have the same rights and responsibilities as if they had been a natural parent (apart from some restrictions where they cannot consent or object to the making of an adoption order). This means that a step parent with parental responsibility would be able to assist in making decisions regarding the child’s schooling, education, give consent to medial treatments and other decisions relating to the child’s upbringing.
In some cases the step parent will wish to legally adopt the child and the process in family law for adoption, although generally straightforward is often lengthy. An application is made to the High Court for an Adoption Order under the Adoption (NI) Order 1987 legislation.
If the natural parent who is not involved in the adoption has not consented to the adoption then a Statement of Facts must be lodged with the Judge asking the Judge to dispense with the agreement of this person to the proposed adoption. Often the natural parent cannot give agreement because they cannot be found and details of all efforts made to trace them should be given in this Statement.
The application is then forwarded to the Social Services Trust to make all enquiries regarding the circumstances of the case and to provide a report to the Court regarding same. A Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to represent the child and again is asked to look into the circumstances of the case and speak to the proposed adoptive parents and make recommendations to the Court. If the recommendations are in favour of adoption, an Adoption Hearing is listed before the High Court. This is a short informal hearing where the Judge having considered the papers and the recommendations of Social Services and the Guardian will then make an Adoption Order.
The Adoption Hearing is a very joyful and happy time for the child and the adoptive parents and an Adoption Certificate is provided and steps are taken to obtain a new birth certificate recording the adoptive parents as legal parents of the child.