The Adoption Process in Scotland
Adoption is an order by the court which makes the petitioner (applicant/new adoptive parent), to all intents and purposes, the parent of the child who is the subject of the petition.
An adoption order confers parental responsibilities and rights on the petitioner, it can also extinguish parental responsibilities and rights from those who held them prior to the order being made, and can contain such other terms and conditions as the court thinks fit.
In Scotland, only children can be adopted, so the petition to adopt must be made before the child turns 18; adoption cannot be applied for later, and cannot be retrospective.
The only limit the law places on who can adopt a child relates to the petitioner’s own age; before adoption can be made, the adoptive parent or parents must be over 21 years old. There is no upper age limit. A criminal conviction does not prevent a person from seeking to adopt a child. Nor does a complex personal history. And of course, gone are the days when the law permitted adoption by only heterosexual married couples. Single persons, heterosexual couples - married or unmarried - and homosexual couples - again, married or unmarried - can all seek to adopt. But this does not mean anyone can adopt a child. Both the local authority or adoption agency responsible for assessment of prospective adopters and the court itself are required to decide the case with reference to the child’s best interest and in particular, work out what is the best means of safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare throughout his or her lifetime.
Broadly, there are two different categories of person who may seek adoption. The first category is individuals or couples who want to alter the legal status of their relationship with a child for whom they already care, for example, step-parents or family members caring for a child. The second is the individual or couple who seek to adopt a child who is or has been in care of a local authority, either in the UK or abroad.
Where a person in the first category intends petitioning the court to adopt, he or she must give the local authority notice of their intention. The local authority must then investigate all of the circumstances and prepare a report for the court, addressing, amongst other matters, whether adoption is the best means of safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare. This report will then assist the court in forming a view as to whether it should make an adoption order and if so, in what terms.
For those seeking to adopt a child who is or has been in care, the process can be lengthier and more complex. The individual or couple must first apply to an adoption agency to be assessed as adopters. The adoption agency will then investigate all of the circumstances of the applicant or applicants and make a recommendation as to their suitability to be adoptive parents. The recommendation is considered by an adoption panel which then makes a recommendation to the adoption agency’s ‘agency decision maker’. The agency decision maker then independently reviews and considers the recommendation of the agency, and decides whether or not to approve the applicants as adopters.
If a person or couple are approved as adopters, the next step is the process of ‘matching’ - the agency and the prospective adopter will seek to match a child with the prospective adopter. After a potential match is identified, a further question is referred to the adoption panel and, in turn, the agency decision maker: the question of whether the applicants are suitable to adopt the particular child. If the answer is ‘yes’, at some point following ‘the match’, either with the agreement of the birth parent or with the authority of a Children’s Hearing, the child may be moved to the care of the prospective adopters.
Then the prospective adopter will require to petition the court, seeking to have an adoption order made. In some situations, a ‘direct adoption petition’ will be made to the court soon after the child is placed with the prospective adopters. In other situations, the local authority will first petition the court to have some or all parental responsibilities and rights removed from the birth parent and then the prospective adopters will petition the court seeking to have an adoption order.
Becoming a parent is life-changing and one of the most significant events in a person’s life. Becoming an adoptive parent is legally complex too, and so it’s important that you seek legal advice at an early stage in the process. Our qualified family lawyers can provide you with first-class legal guidance on the adoption process in Scotland. Get in touch with Austin Lafferty Solicitors today.