Step-parent adoption

Step-parent adoption is a way in which you can become the legal parent of your partner’s child or children from a previous marriage or relationship.

In the past, step-parent adoption was the usual way chosen by people who wanted to take legal steps to provide a stable and secure family environment for step-children, enabling them to share the new family’s name and making sure that step-parent’s role, rights and responsibilities are recognised in the event of the death or incapacity of the birth parent.

Nowadays, there are a variety of alternatives available which are likely to be easier to achieve and may be more appropriate – especially for a child who has some involvement with both sides of his or her original family.

Parental responsibility

One alternative is parental responsibility. This means having all the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities for a child.

Having parental responsibility for a child means that you are responsible for, and have the right to be consulted about, the child’s health, education, religion and welfare.

In the United Kingdom, a mother automatically acquires parental responsibility when the child is born.

A father automatically acquires parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if he subsequently marries the mother. An unmarried father acquires parental responsibility if he is named, or becomes named, on the birth certificate (as of 1 December 2003.)

Stepfathers can acquire parental responsibility by:

  • being awarded parental responsibility by a court
  • entering into a court-registered parental responsibility agreement with the mother (if married)
  • being granted a residence order by a court
  • being appointed a guardian by a court
  • adopting the child.

The parents named on a child’s adoption certificate acquire parental responsibility regardless of their marital status. Anyone who had parental responsibility prior to the child’s adoption has their parental responsibility removed upon adoption.

Any changes to a child’s status or a name change will need to be agreed by all of those with parental responsibility for the child.

Can we go to a solicitor and acquire a parental responsibility agreement for the step-parent instead of adopting?

Yes – if the resident birth parent and applicant are married. It is a good idea to find a solicitor with experience of family law, and the extension of parental responsibility to another person should be agreed by all those who currently have parental responsibility for the child as you will all share parental responsibility for the child. This may mean your child’s non-resident birth parent may have to agree with this.

Going ahead with adoption

To be eligible to be assessed to adopt your step-child you must be at least 21 years old.

You must also be married to, or the partner of, one of the child’s parents for at least two years and also lived with the child full-time for at least six months.

The Court expects the step-parent to have been in the family home for a period of two years to demonstrate commitment and enduring relationship with the child/ren.

Before making your application you must attend a step-parent adoption information session.

Update 16 June 2020:

Due to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, we are now able to offer our step parent information sessions virtually. Please contact the team who will book you onto the next available date.

In the future, information sessions are an opportunity for you to find out much more about what will be involved in the adoption process, discuss your route to becoming a step-parent with Adopt South West social workers, understand the legal orders and alternatives to step-parent adoption, and ask any questions you may have.

If you wish to proceed, following the information session, you will need to contact us at Adopt South West to request a notice of intention to adopt (NOITA) form. The NOITA form needs to be returned within 21 days.

Once we receive the form, you will be invited to attend a meeting at one of our offices to discuss further details with one of our ‘assessment social workers’.

Before making your application you must give us three months’ notice of your intention to apply for an ‘adoption order’.

Please contact us for a preliminary discussion, or you may wish to consult a solicitor who specialises in children and family law.

Our step-parent adoption email is: business.stepparentadoption-mailbox@devon.gov.uk


Adopt South West will undertake your checks and references and we have a contract with Families for Children Adoption Agency who undertake the assessment for the Court.

We will advise you how and when to make your application to your local County Court or Family Proceedings (Magistrates) Court.

The Court will ask us to appoint a social worker to provide them with a detailed report on all the circumstances.

The report must contain information about:

  • the child
  • each parent of the child and other family members, including other children
  • what alternatives to adoption have been considered
  • evidence that adequate attempts have been made to trace, contact and seek the views of an absent parent
  • the impact of the proposed adoption on the child and both birth parents
  • whether, taking into account all the circumstances, adoption is likely to be in the child’s best interests

This report will help the court decide if an adoption order should be made.