In 2012 – 2013, the Australian Census ascertained that the proportion of intact families in Australia, where the children are the natural/adopted children of both parents, decreases dramatically the older a child gets.
Of families with children between 0 to 17 years old:
- Children aged 5 to 9 – only 72% were intact families;
- children aged 10 to 14 – only 68% were intact families;
- children aged 15 to 17 – only 60% were intact families.
With over 30% of couples having separated by the time their child is 10 years of age, it is no wonder that blended families are becoming more and more the norm in today’s society.
With the number of blended families increasing by the day, we are having more and more clients come to us asking about step-parent adoption. There are a variety of differing reasons a person might seek advice about step-parent adoption. Some of these reasons include that the other parent has been absent for many years, the child expresses a wish to be adopted, the parents seek to ensure that the child remains with the step-parent should the birth parent die, or the child’s other parent may have died.
Are you considering step-parent adoption? We can assist you through what can be a complex process.
What is step-parent Adoption?
Step Parent adoption is a legal process for you, the step-parent to become the permanent adoptive parent of your partner’s child. Adoption legally transfers the rights and responsibilities for your step-child from one of their birth parents (and family) to you and your family and severs the legal relationship between the child and the relevant birth parent.
Adoption is not governed by the Family Law Act. Rather, each state and territory has its own laws with respect to adoption. Adoptions are governed by the Adoption Act 2009 for people in Queensland.
In Queensland, all adoptions are organised through Adoption Services Queensland in the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DOCS). This includes local and overseas adoptions. Privately arranged adoptions are illegal in Queensland.
An adoption order is made by the Children’s Court after certain procedures have been complied with.
How do I adopt a child?
As a step-parent, to adopt a child you are required to enter your name on the expression of interest register governed by the Adoption Services Queensland (ASQ), so you can be assessed as to your suitability to adopt. The ASQ has a lengthy list of criteria to consider before issuing a suitability report. This suitability report is then presented to the Children’s Court to determine whether a final adoption order will be made.
You cannot apply to the Children’s Court to adopt your step-child or place your name on the expression of interest register until you have first obtained permission from the Family Court to commence the application.
Seeking permission from the Family Court to apply for step-parent adoption
Before the process is started through Adoption Services Queensland, an application for permission to apply must first be filed in the Family Court (has exclusive jurisdiction for adoption matters). Both the step-parent (partner/spouse) and the birth parent are the applicants to the application.
In assessing whether the Court will grant permission, the ultimate consideration is that granting permission is in the child’s best interests, taking account all the factors under section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975, any current parenting orders and also the effect of the adoption on the other birth parent’s parental responsibility.
Step Parent Adoption – eligibility to apply
A child’s step-parent is eligible to apply to adopt the child if the following criteria is satisfied that:
- You are an Adult;
- You are a Resident in Queenland
- You are an Australian citizen;
- You have lived with the child and your partner (birth parent) for a minimum of three (3) years; adult who lives in Queensland and is an Australian citizen/partner of an Australian citizen;
- You have obtained leave from the Family Court of Australia under the Family Law Act to commence adoption proceedings (in the Children’s Court);
- The child is at least five (5) years old and not more than 17 years old.
Consent to step-parent Adoption
Where a child is to be adopted by a step-parent, each of the child’s parents must consent to the child’s adoption before the Children’s Court will make an adoption order.
Where a mother is solely responsible for the child or the Father’s identity is not known, the Department must take reasonable steps to identify and locate the child’s father so he has the opportunity to participate in decisions about the child’s adoption or other long-term arrangements for the child.
After identifying and locating the child’s father, the department is required to establish whether he is the child’s father, inform him about how he can consent to the adoption or otherwise how he could apply for a parenting order for the child through the Family Courts.
Consent of the child’s parents may be dispensed with in certain circumstances, for example, where a person is withholding consent unnecessarily or where they do not have the capacity to give consent. If a parent does not provide consent to proceed with the adoption, the adoption can proceed where the Court deems that the adoption is in a child’s best interests.
Step-Parent Adoption – How to apply
Assessment of Application
The Assessment can only begin if:
- You are eligible to apply to adopt the child;
- the non-custodial parent consents to the adoption OR the need for that parent’s consent has been dispensed with by the children’s court of Queensland.
Your application is carefully assessed given the serious nature of an adoption order. The assessment considers matters such as the significance of the child’s non-custodial parent and family. Required information includes criminal, domestic violence, traffic and child protection history checks, home visits for assessment interviews, talking with you, your spouse, children and nominated referees, getting information about your health.
Your application cannot be assessed without consent of the non-custodial parent unless you have made an application to the children’s court for an order to dispense with the consent of the other parent.
As stated above, consent of the non-custodial parent will only be dispensed with by the court in limited circumstances.
I am in a same-sex relationship. Can I adopt my partner’s child?
Yes. Legislative changes that came into effect on 2 November 2016 allow a same-sex person to apply to adopt their step-child.
How long does it take?
The estimated time frame to complete the adoption process, which includes an application to the Family Court, assessment of eligibility by ASQ and an application to the Children’s Court, is approximately one to two years.
Do you need legal advice?
You should receive legal advice if you:
- Are thinking about giving up your child for adoption;
- Have been asked by the other parent to consent to allowing your child to be adopted by somebody else;
- Want to know about options other than adoption that allow you to have parental responsibility for a child, including parenting orders.
For more information and advice as to your eligibility to apply for step-parent adoption, contact our family law expert and Principal Courtney Barton for a reduced rate consultation to discuss your individual circumstances.