Adopting a step child - process info sheet [PDF 152KB]
Information for step-parents interested in adopting a step-child.
What is step-parent adoption?
Step-parent adoption is the legal process for you to become the permanent adoptive parent of your partner’s child – your step-child. It legally and permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities for your step-child from one of their birth parents (and their family) to you (and your family).
Step-parent adoption does not change the legal relationship between your step-child and your partner (the continuing birth parent).
Adoption is organised through Child and Youth Protection Services and is typically decided on by the ACT Supreme Court. There are some instances where step-parent adoptions are finalised in the Family Court of Australia.
Why choose step-parent adoption?
There are different reasons why you may seek step-parent adoption. These include:
- To legalise the de facto parental relationship between you and your step-child.
- To ensure continuity of care for your step-child should anything happen to your partner (their continuing birth parent).
- To help your step-child feel more secure in your family and strengthen their sense of belonging.
Eligibility – who can adopt?
As a step-parent, you can apply to adopt your step-child if:
- Residence: Both you and your step-child live in the ACT.
- Relationship: You and your partner have been married or in a stable domestic relationship for at least three years.
- Consent: Your partner consents to the adoption (this does not change their parental rights).
Consent from the non-continuing birth parent, and any other legal guardian, is also required. If this consent is not given, you can make an application to the ACT Supreme Court to dispense the need for their consent. There are various grounds for which dispensation can be made as outlined in section 35 of the Adoption Act 1993.
This process becomes more complex if Family Court orders already exist. In these situations, additional court orders may be needed prior to making an adoption application and you are encouraged to seek legal advice in these matters.
The adoption process
Deciding to adopt a step-child is a wonderful thing and Child and Youth Protection Services recognises step-parent adoption is a little different. This is because the child to be adopted is already living safely and happily with a birth parent who is responsible for them and is supportive of the adoption.
Regardless of the type of adoption, Child and Youth Protection Services is required under law to conduct an assessment of all adoption applications to satisfy the needs of the ACT Supreme Court. This will include you needing to share personal information and we ask you to be open and honest with us. We will strive to limit the intrusion on your lives and will work with you to make the process as efficient as possible.
In brief, the step-parent adoption process involves:
- Making an initial enquiry with us registering your interest.
- Completing an application so we can confirm your eligibility.
- Obtaining consents from all relevant people.
- Using the dispensation process if all consents cannot be obtained.
- Participating in the assessment process, including interviews and medical and legal checks, so we can prepare the Court required report regarding recommendation of the adoption.
- Lodging the application and report with the ACT Supreme Court.
- Attending a court hearing where the decision on adoption will be made.
- Updating of relevant records and provision of a new birth certificate for your step-child.
- Accessing post adoption support if required.
The Courts need to be satisfied the rights of all people involved have been considered and upheld. It is not possible therefore to guarantee the time it will take for an adoption to be granted.
More detail on each step of the process, including estimated timeframes, costs and responsibilities, is available at The adoption process.
Involvement of the child
Adoption is a major event in a child’s life and their views need to be considered. It is important they understand what adoption is and what it will mean for them if they are adopted.
During the adoption process, Child and Youth Protection Services will provide information to your step-child about the proposed adoption and work with them, and you, to ensure they understand what it means so they can freely express how they feel about it.
Your step-child’s views will form part of the report submitted to the Court by Child and Youth Protection Services.
Information specific for children is available at Support for children.
Involvement of birth parents
Adoption is a major decision for both birth parents.
Consent to the adoption is required by both birth parents, and any other legal guardians of your step-child. For your partner, consent does not change their legal relationship with their child. For the non-continuing birth parent and any other legal guardians, consent relinquishes all legal ties to your step-child.
There are rules and requirements around obtaining consent including mental capacity, timeframes and revocation periods where parents can change their mind. These requirements are outlined in section 26 of the Adoption Act 1993.
If consent is not given, either because the non-continuing birth parent or guardian cannot be found, does not have the mental capacity to give consent, or does not agree with the adoption, an application to dispense their consent can be made to the ACT Supreme Court.
There are strict grounds for when dispensation can be granted, as outlined in section 35 of the Adoption Act 1993. The specific ground used for seeking dispensation will vary depending on the circumstances of your case, and so too will the time it takes for the Court to reach a decision. If your situation requires the dispensation process to happen, you are encouraged to seek legal advice.
Adoptions in the ACT are open, meaning adoption does not exclude the right for the non-continuing birth parent and their family to have future contact with your step-child after they are adopted. Contact will vary depending on the best interests of the child. Where possible, the non-continuing birth parent will be involved (along with you and your partner) in establishing a contact plan that outlines future contact. This contact plan is to be provided to the Court as part of your adoption order application.
What happens after an adoption is granted?
Once adoption is granted by the ACT Supreme Court (or in some circumstances the Family Court of Australia), all legal rights and responsibilities for your step-child will be transferred from the non-continuing birth parent to you. Your step-child will become in law your child, and you will become in law their parent. Your step-child ceases to legally be a child of the non-continuing birth parent.
A new birth certificate will be made for your step-child to reflect the legal change, and is the only one permitted to be used for legal purposes. Your step-child will also now have the usual rights to inherit from your estate.
Future contact with the non-continuing birth parent will occur in line with the contact plan agreed by the Court.
Alternatives to adoption
Many children live happily in blended families without changing their legal status. Depending on your situation, there may be other options to consider.
Family Court parenting orders
In many instances, a parenting order provided under the Parentage Act 2004 is enough to formalise the relationship between you and your step-child. Parenting orders do not change your step-child’s birth certificate or provide automatic inheritance rights, but do provide you, as their step-parent, the right to participate in major decision-making in their life and have certain legal responsibilities for their care.
Parenting orders are applied for in the Family Court of Australia. As this is a Federal court, Child and Youth Protection Services, which is governed only be ACT legislation, has no involvement. For assistance in applying for a parenting order please contact a solicitor or the Family Court’s Deputy Registrar.
Change of name by deed poll
Deed poll allows a person to change their name without changing any aspect of their legal status. For step-children, this means they could take on your surname. This will not change your step-child’s birth certificate but makes their new name their legal name.
Both birth parents need to agree to the name change if your step-child is under 16. The ACT Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages can help with a name change application.
Further support and information
If you are considering adoption you might like to get support and advice to help you and your family through the process. This could include legal advice, counselling and other support services.
You can also contact Child and Youth Protection Services on 6207 1466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.