In order to adopt a child you must be over 21 years of age and the child must be under the age of 18. If it is to be a joint application to adopt you must be married or in a civil partnership. If you are unmarried only one person can be the adopter.
Very often the adoption will be carried out through an adoption agency. They will arrange for a social worker to visit you and make a home study assessment of your family. They will take references and check out your medical records. After this initial assessment an adoption panel will make a recommendation as to whether you would be suitable adoptive parents. If you are approved the process of matching a child to your family will begin.
If you have decided not to use an adoption agency it is necessary to inform the social services department of your local council of your wish to adopt at least three months before making your application to the court. In most cases your application to the court to adopt a child will be dealt with by a specialised adoption centre. These are courts which have specialist judges and adoption officers with special training and experience in the adoption process.
When considering your application the judge will have a number of options. Very often a reporting officer will be appointed. If the current parent or guardian of the child agrees to the adoption a report will be prepared by the reporting officer to help and assist the court. As in all matters concerning children the governing principle as always will be what is in the child is best interest.
If the existing parent or guardian of the child does not agree to an adoption, then a guardian for the child will be appointed by the court to protect the child’s interest. The child’s guardian will make a report to the court advising on what will be in the child’s best interest and will represent the child in court. The local authority or adoption agency may also be required to provide a report which will include details about your family and the child.
About four weeks after you have lodged your application for adoption with the court, a first directions hearing will be fixed. At this hearing the judge will consider amongst other things whether the application is procedurally correct, whether all necessary documentation is in place, and will fix a timetable for further consideration of your application.
If an adoption order is made by the court all legal ties between the child and his or her birth family are severed and transferred to you as the adoptive parents. Once this has taken place it is final even if the reasons for the adoption later turn out to be unfounded. There have been cases where allegations against the birth family have been found to be wrong after an adoption has taken place. Notwithstanding this the adoption could not be set aside.