Choosing to start a family is a very personal choice, and while many couples opt to have biological children, some may choose to explore adoption or surrogacy instead. There are many reasons people may choose to adopt; from medical reasons such as infertility, to wanting to start a family as a single person or same sex couple, or the desire to give an older child a stable, loving home.
Choosing to use a surrogate to start a family is often for many of the same reasons; including medical issues, same sex couples who want to start a family, or if pregnancy is simply not a safe choice, due to conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Adoption and surrogacy are a wonderful way to help couples start a family, but as you might imagine, the legal processes can be complicated. They are vital to ensure the best interests of all parties are protected, and a family law firm can support you and your family through the process, and help you navigate any complicated legal requirements. If you’re thinking about surrogacy or adoption and want to know more about the legal processes, see our handy guide below and discover how family solicitors can help.
What is adoption?
Adoption refers to the legal process which gives a non biological parent or parents, full, permanent and legal guardianship of a child or group of children. Adoptive parents gain the same rights and responsibilities that they would have if the child was biologically theirs. The legal process for adoption can be lengthy and complicated, and there are many stages that a family must go through if applying to be adoptive parents. We will look at the full legal adoption process in more detail further on.
Who can apply to adopt?
You can apply for adoption if you are an individual, married, in a civil partnership or living with a partner. It is possible to adopt as an unmarried couple, but the term ‘couple’ in this sense refers to anybody who is married, in a civil partnership, same sex relationship or living together; it is not possible to adopt with another family member, for example as a mother and daughter or two cousins.
People who adopt include those who already have biological children or existing adopted children, single people or couples with no children, or people who have fostered a child or groups of children in the past. Some family members choose to adopt a relative if the birth parents can no longer care for the child; for example an aunt and uncle may adopt their niece or nephew.
What qualities and skills do you need to adopt?
Adoption is a serious lifelong decision, and while agencies welcome enquiries from all races, religions, sexual orientations, cultures and ages, there are certain qualities and skills that are needed to ensure the child’s needs are met. Parenting experience is not strictly necessary, but applicants do need to show that they are committed to providing the child with a stable, loving family home.
Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, and while there is no upper age limit for adoption, it’s suggested that applicants are no more than 45 years older than the age of the child they want to adopt. You will also need to prove that you are financially secure, that you have a stable home (either renting or owned), and that you are in full or part time employment. The skills needed may vary depending on the child, but potential adoptive parents should be aware that some adoptive children come with complex social or emotional needs.
The legal process
Adopting a child is a life changing decision, and a very rewarding one, but as stated - there is a thorough legal process which can put off potential applicants. In most cases, both of the child’s birth parents must have given their consent to the adoption, unless they cannot be found, they are incapable of giving consent (e.g due to a mental disability), or if the welfare of the child is at risk if they are not adopted.
To adopt a child, individuals or couples can apply via an adoption agency that’s part of their local council, or by contacting a voluntary adoption agency such as Barnado’s. The agency will then send out more information about the adoption process, and invite applicants to a meeting to discuss things further. If you and the agency agree that adoption is suitable, they will give you an application form to fill out before beginning the next stage.
After you’ve completed an application, the agency will begin an adoption assessment; this takes around six months, or three months if you are already a step parent to the child. The assessment includes visits to your home from a social worker, preparation classes to ensure you fully understand what adoption entails, and police and background checks to ensure there are no serious criminal convictions.
Applicants will also need to provide at least three referees who can give a personal reference, and undertake a full medical examination. The assessment report is then sent to an independent board, who will assess whether they believe you are suitable to adopt a child. If you pass, then the process will begin to find and match you with a child.
The process can be long and complicated, and many applicants may feel overwhelmed by the legal jargon and requirements being discussed. Hiring a family lawyer to help you through the process can be invaluable, and they can provide a range of help and support, including giving clear guidance about the process and possible hurdles, assist with adoption from abroad or adopting from the UK if you are not a British citizen, and help prepare you for court or attend court on your behalf. If your application is rejected, family solicitors can also help you prepare an appeal to the agency.
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is another way to start a family, and is often used by male same sex couples, or individuals or couples where it is not practical or safe for a woman to carry a pregnancy. Surrogacy is an arrangement, often supported by a legal agreement, where a woman (or surrogate mother) agrees to carry a baby on behalf of an individual or couple. Same-sex couples often use IVF methods to gather eggs from the mother and sperm from the father; in the hope of fertilizing an embryo which can then be implanted in the utures of the surrogate and carried to term.
Some people choose to use a family member or friend as their surrogate, but if this is not possible then there are private organisations who can help, such as Surrogacy UK.
The legal process
Surrogacy involves a lot of complex legal issues, so it’s essential that anyone considering it seeks independent legal advice to ensure everything is above board before going ahead. In the UK, a surrogate is the legal mother of the child unless a parental order from the court has been completed; this applies even if the surrogate has no genetic relation to the child.
The surrogate must fill out a legal parent form nominating the intended parent (e.g the woman whose eggs are being used), but the second legal parent will depend on the circumstances. If the surrogate is married, her partner will automatically be granted second legal parent status (unless another person is nominated). Once the surrogate completes the legal forms, they will have no further legal rights or obligations to the child. As you might imagine, this can become a very complicated area, so it’s vital to discuss the process and any potential issues with a solicitor and the fertility clinic before going ahead.
If you’ve been thinking about adoption or surrogacy and need some professional legal support, get in touch with Trent Law Solicitors. Our experienced family lawyers provide services for customers in Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, and we can offer legal advice about the adoption or surrogacy processes, as well as family mediation, divorce solicitors, annulments and more. To discuss how we could help you, or to book an appointment, give us a call today or visit our website.