Partner adoption

Becoming the legal parent of your partner’s child or children from a previous marriage or relationship.


Partner 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, partner adoption was known as step-parent adoption, and was the usual way chosen by people who wanted to take legal steps to provide a stable and secure family environment for step-children. It was a way for the child to share the new family’s name, ensuring the 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. These alternatives are likely to be easier to achieve and may be more appropriate – especially for a child who has some involvement with both sides of their 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 birth 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.)

Step-parents 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.

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.

Child Arrangements Order (CAO)

A Child Arrangements Order is an order that regulates who a child lives with, spends time or otherwise has contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. It can be made in favour of a person with whom a child lives, giving them parental responsibility in addition to birth parents. This continues if the birth parent dies, as long as the child continues to live with the step-parent.

A Child Arrangements Order can be made by any family court, there is no need to give notice to the local authority. Please see a solicitor for advice.

Change of name

Can be done legally by deed poll with birth parents’ consent or permission of court. If the absent parent has Parental Responsibility they need to consent to a name change otherwise a court order is required.


Birth parent can appoint their partner as a guardian for the child. This just needs an agreement, signed and dated.

Other option

Make a will and appoint a testamentary guardian who will take care of your child in the event of your death.

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 is likely to expect the step-parent to have been in the family home for a period of one year to demonstrate commitment and enduring relationship with the child/ren.

Your Local Authority/Adoption Agency must receive written notification of you intention to adopt (NOITA) 3 months before the application to court can be made. The NOITA must include your name, dates of birth, and address, relationship to the child, names and dates of birth of the child/ren and email and telephone number.


If a child who is not a British Citizen is adopted in this country by someone (including a step-parent) who is a British Citizen, the child will acquire British Citizenship. In these cases, you must notify the Home Office of the application.

You should also consider what effect this would have on the child’s original nationality – some countries do not allow ‘dual citizenship’ and so the child might lose legal ties to their original country. If there is an internal element to your stepfamily, you should take legal advice on your position before deciding whether to adopt or not.

Use our ‘Partner adoption – readiness checker’ to learn more about who to inform and understand more about the partner adoption process:

Find out if you can adopt your step-child

  • If after completing the ‘Partner adoption – readiness checker’ you feel ready to adopt your step-child, you may wish to consult a solicitor who specialises in children and family law
  • The next step is to book a 2024 Partner Adoption information session

When the courts notify Adopt South West of a partner adoption application being made Adopt South West will undertake your checks and references.

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.