Mother and daughter on riverbank

Non-Agency / Step-Parent Adoptions

Before you start:

In the UK, adoption is the legal process of severing parental responsibility from a child’s birth parent(s) and bestowing parental responsibility to the person(s) wishing to adopt the child.

It is a legal process, and it is advisable to consult a solicitor who specialises in child and family law.

Adoption is first and foremost about what is best for the child(ren).

All adoptions involve making an application to the relevant Family Court where a Judge will oversee the proceedings and make decisions.

In making an application to the Court, you are asking the Judge to grant an Adoption Order. This is a legally binding Order which brings about the changes in Parental Responsibility.

Before the Court can grant an Adoption Order it must be entirely satisfied that the welfare of the child requires nothing less than adoption. It cannot be granted if any other option is considered suitable.

The Court will not automatically grant an Adoption Order and will expect other alternatives to have been explored and considered beforehand.

It is important to realise that step-parent adoption is not the only way to provide a stable and secure family environment or to recognise the rights, roles and responsibilities of step-parents.

You should therefore consider all the alternatives before making a decision.

The Impact of Step-Parent Adoption:


  • For the child

    There are a number of outcomes from step-parent adoption.

    These include:

    • The relationship between the child and the step parent will be recognised in law
    • The step parent will aquire parental responsibility (legal rights) on the same footing as the birth parent caring for the child
    • The child may aquire a new surname or family name


    There are a number of wider reaching consequences to consider as the child would no longer have any legal ties to the absent birth parent or the absent birth parent's family. Although good relations can be maintained, in law the adopted child will not have: 

    • An automatic right to contact with the birth parent who loses parental responsibility or that parent's family (aunts, uncles, grandparents etc.)
    • A right to recieve maintenance payments from the other birth parent i.e. CSA
    • Any right to inheritance from the other birth parent or that parent’s family unless special provision is made in their wills
  • For the step parent

    The step-parent will become the child’s legal parent with all the rights and responsibilities they would have if the child were born to them. Adoption is a life-long commitment to being a parent to that child throughout their childhood and beyond. Adoption is permanent and is irreversible except in rare and extreme circumstances.

  • For the birth parents

    An Adoption Order will remove parental responsibility (if they have it) from the absent birth parent but the parent, who is the step-parent’s partner, retains parental responsibility.

    If the adopting step-parent and birth parent separate or divorce after an Adoption Order is granted, both will retain equal parental rights and responsibilities for the child. This means the step-parent who has adopted the child will have a legal right to contact with the child and would be required, as a legal parent, to pay maintenance for the child.

    A common question asked is “does the child’s absent birth parent still need to be informed or involved in the adoption process if they either don’t have parental responsibility or if they have never had a role in the child’s life or haven’t been involved for several years?

    The simple answer is always yes.

    The Court will expect all and every reasonable effort to be made to firstly, inform the absent birth parent of the intention to adopt and secondly, for their views and circumstances to be obtained and made available to the Court.

    What if I don’t have contact details for the absent birth parent?

    The Court will expect the applicant (step-parent) and the adoption agency to make every effort to contact the absent birth parent and to provide a detailed chronology of the attempts made to notify and obtain their views.

    These commonly include:

      • Contacting the person at last known addresses
      • Reaching out using private messaging on social media
      • Contacting wider family members of the absent birth parent where contact may have been maintained or where their contact details are known
      • Making use of the adoption agency’s tracing software

    If these avenues have been explored and have failed, the Court may order the Department for Work and Pensions to disclose any known contact details for the absent birth parent. This often proves successful if the birth parent is in receipt of state benefits or paying national insurance contributions and/or income tax.


On record:

  • The making of an Adoption Order will be recorded in the Adopted Children Register (the Adopted Children Register is not open to public inspection or search). A copy of the Adoption Order is provided at the time of the adoption.
  • An adoption certificate can be purchased from the General Register Office. This replaces the child’s original birth certificate.
  • The child’s entry in the register of live-births will also be annotated that adoption has occurred.  
    • At 18 years old, an adopted person can apply for a copy of their original birth certificate.

Other important things to consider:

The Court will always view adoption from the child’s interests, rather than the adults.

The views of the birth parents and step-parent are considered but an Adoption Order will only be granted if the welfare of the child requires it. This is an understandably high threshold to meet.

Some applicants want to adopt their step-children in order to make the family feel complete. This, in itself, is not a sufficient reason for a Court to grant an Adoption Order.

The Criteria for Step-Parent Adoption:

Applications may be made by either a married or an unmarried partner (whether of different or the same sex) of a parent with whom they are living in an enduring family relationship (customarily lasting 3+ years or more, but a minimum of 2 years).

The applicant must be domiciled in the UK and must have been resident in the UK for a period of a year prior to making the application.

The step-parent must have lived with the child for at least 6 continuous months prior to the application.

The applicant should be over the age of 21 years, whilst the child must be under the age of 18 years old.

Under UK law, once a person has had their 18th birthday, they are no longer able to be adopted in any capacity.

The step-parent must apply to the Court for an Adoption Order to be made. Where permission is granted, the step-parent becomes the adoptive parent.

In summary, an Adoption Order is only possible if:

    • The Court decides it is in the best interests of the child
    • Any other parent who plays a role in the child’s life and who has parental responsibility agrees (unless the Court decides that grounds exist to dispense with their agreement)
    • The child has been looked after by the couple for more than 6 continuous months prior to the application
    • The applicant must be over the age of 21 years and the birth parent 18 years or older
    • The applicant must be resident in the UK for a year or more
    • The applicant must be unrelated to the child
    • To evidence stability, the Court must be satisfied that the applicant and birth parent to the child are in an “enduring family relationship”


Alternatives to step parent adoption:

It is understandable for a step-parent to want the child to become part of a formal family unit. However, adoption may not always be the best way to provide stability and structure to a child.

The Courts often recognise a number of alternatives which include: 

  • Parental Responsibility Agreement

    This is a formal agreement usually drawn up by a solicitor which clarifies the rights, roles and responsibilities of everyone with parental responsibility. The parties who have Parental Responsibility enter into an agreement with the step-parent which consents to them acquiring Parental Responsibility.

    Form C(PRA2): Ask the court to witness your step-parent parental responsibility agreement - GOV.UK (

  • Parental Responsibility Order 

    An Order, which if granted by the Court, gives the step-parent parental responsibility. This Order will not however sever the formal links with the child’s extended birth family in the same way as the making of an Adoption Order.

    Apply for certain orders under the Children Act 1989: Form C1 - GOV.UK (

  • Child Arrangement Order

    Child Arrangement Orders were introduced into UK legislation to replace and encompass other Orders, such as Residence Orders and Contact Orders. A Child Arrangement Order regulates arrangements relating to where a child is to live and with whom and also with whom they may have contact. Any Parental Responsibility conveyed within the making of a Child Arrangement Order is lost when the child ceases to live with the step-parent.


Legal Advice:

You may wish to seek the advice of a Child and Family Solicitor before proceeding with an application. It is not compulsory to have legal representation to make an adoption application, however in complex cases or cases where there is a dispute, it is advisable.

How do I begin the process of applying:

To begin the process, firstly you must formally notify in writing the Adoption Team for your area, that you intend to apply to adopt. This must be received a minimum of three months prior to submitting any Court application.

If you are a resident of Merthyr Tydfil CBC, Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, Cardiff Council or the Vale of Glamorgan CBC your relevant Adoption Team is Vale, Valleys and Cardiff Adoption Collaborative.

You must write a ‘letter of intent’ to us which includes the following details:

  • The child / children’s full legal name(s), address and date(s) of birth
  • The applicant’s (step-parents) full name, address and date of birth
  • The applicant’s partner (the child / children’s birth parent’s) full name, address and date of birth
  • The second birth parent's full name, address and date of birth
  • The length of your relationship with the child / children’s birth parent and how long you have been living in the same household on a full-time basis. You will need to have been in a relationship for a minimum of 2 years and have been a part of the family for more than 6 months
  • Confirmation that the child / children are fully aware of the application and is aware who their birth parents are. Although level of understanding is dependent upon the ages of the child / children, there is an expectation that if they have some understanding, that this has been discussed with them fully before a Social Worker undertakes their first visit
  • The level of contact between the children and their absent birth parent
  • Confirmation that the child’s absent birth parent has been made aware of the application and what their views are
  • The letter requires a signature signed from the applicant and partner (the birth parent of the child). The signatures must also be dated


  • Please address your letter to:

    Vale, Valleys and Cardiff Adoption, 1st Floor, Dock Office, Subway Road, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, CF63 4RT.

    Please address the letter for the attention of the Recruitment and Assessment Manager

    Once we have received your letter of intent, we'll acknowledge receipt, add your request to our waiting list and advise you on the next stages.


    • Cost
      1. There is no cost for our services. Local Authorities have a responsibility to conduct this work. There is a court application fee. At present, the fee is £183. Only one fee is paid regardless of how many children your application relates to as long as the applications are lodged at the same time.
    • What if the child(ren’s) absent parent does not agree?
      1. Birth parents are able to take one of three possible positions 1. Consent, 2. take a neutral position or 3. oppose the adoption. If they support the adoption and consent, a member of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will be appointed to meet with them in order to gain written consent. If the absent parent takes a neutral position, this will be reflected within the report produced by the Social Worker.

      If a birth parent opposes, this is also reflected in the report and they are encouraged to either seek their own legal advice or participate in the court proceedings and make their own representations to the Judge. A birth parent opposing the adoption does not prevent this from moving forward, as long as the court is of the view that the welfare of the child requires the making of an Adoption Order.

    • Does my child need to know about the adoption?
      1. Yes. As part of the process a Social Worker will be tasked with spending time with your child in order to obtain their wishes and feelings. They will also help them to understand what adoption is and what is involved in an age-appropriate way.
    • How involved does my child need to be in the process?
      This depends on their age and level of understanding. Generally a child of school age will have some contact with an Adoption Social Worker so that their views and wishes can be obtained. The Social Worker will approach their work in a sensitive and child centred way. 
    • We have gone on to have other children how involved do the siblings need to be in the assessment process?
      The views of family members are obtained as part of the report produced for the court. The extent of which other children from within the household are involved depends on their age and level of development. As a general approach, school aged children are consulted in an age appropriate way.
    • Will the absent parent be told our contact details?
      No. No contact details for your family will be shared. 
    • Police and/or restrictions are in place preventing the absent birth parent from contacting my family - does this make a difference?
      The individual circumstances of your family are taken into account. However, regardless of whether the absent birth parent has been cautioned or convicted of any previous crime against you or the child, the court will still require all reasonable efforts to be made in order to inform them and to obtain their views on the matter. The Social Worker will take the lead in having these discussions. 
    • The absent birth parent isnt named on the child's birth certificate and/or doesnt have parental responsibility - does this make a difference? 
      If the absent birth parent is known, regardless of whether they hold parental responsibilty, the court will still expect the adoption agency to make all reasonable efforts to inform them of the adoption application and obtain their views on the matter. 
    • The identity of the absent birth parent is unknown - how is this dealt with? 
      The court will require as much background information as possible surrounding the child's origins. The Social Worker will be expected to undertake checks and interview family and/or friends in order to verify the information provided. If the identityy of the child's birth father is unknown, the court may require the child's mother to swear, under oath that the information she has provided is correct. From there, the application will typically proceed onwards in the usual manner. 
    • What if after they are contacted, the absent birth parent requests contact with the child?
      Social Worker eployed by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS) are appointed in these types of proceedings. Along with the Adoption Social Worker they too will speak to the children and ascertain their views on contact. If the child is too young then both the CAFCASS Officer and they court will consider if contact is in their best interests. Parents who have never had a relationship with the child don't tend to have a Contact Order granted. Those who do have long standing relationships and bonds with the child, may go on to have Contact Arrangements put in place. It's very dependant upon the circumstances of each individual case and accessing independant legal advice is something that you may wish to consider.  
    • How long will it take to complete?

      Timeframes vary from case to case and are dependant on several factor. For example, do the birth parents both consent? How easily can an absent birth parent be located? etc. In general terms, our agency typically operates a six month waiting list from recieving your letter to assigning an Adoption Social Worker. Once allocated, the Adoption Social Worker will become familiar with your circumstances and will be able to advise you on the work that needs to be completed. Once the matter is before the court, proceedings generally take a few months to complete.