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Thinking of adopting as a same-sex parent? UK law supports you

Get to know the ins and outs of UK adoption laws, explained by specialist fertility and family law firm Natalie Gamble Associates

Thinking of adopting as a same-sex parent? UK law supports you

There has been a revolution of law in England and Wales for same-sex families over the past decade.

Adoption law changes have been a key part of that, and England now has one of the most supportive legal frameworks in the world for gay and lesbian adopters.

In fact, UK law has never barred gay and lesbian parents from adopting, and there have been cases of gay adoptions going back many years.

But until 2005, couples could not adopt jointly which meant that, when same-sex couples adopted, only one partner could become the legal parent.

New law which took effect in 2005 enabled same-sex couples to apply to adopt together so that both became legal parents, and this really opened the door to widespread same-sex adoption in the UK.

It also meant that lesbian couples could use adoption as a means to have their existing ‘conceived’ families legally recognised, since one partner could now adopt the other’s children.

Equality legislation also made it illegal for adoption agencies and local authorities to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Adopters are also supported with employment rights, giving time off work and pay equivalent to maternity and paternity pay.

All this has created a pro-adoption culture, in which UK same-sex couples have the full support of the law and are actively encouraged to adopt.

There are relatively few legal restrictions on who can adopt in the UK. You must be over 21 (there is no upper age limit), you must be resident or domiciled in the UK and you must never have been convicted of a ‘specified’ offence (which mainly covers offences against children).

Single people, married couples, civil partners, and couples living together in an ‘enduring family relationship’ are all eligible – gay or straight.

However, meeting the basic criteria does not automatically mean you can adopt. You must also be approved by an adoption agency, having considered a wide range of issues, including your health, age, home environment, financial circumstances, family and support network (including any other children you may have), ethnicity and religion.

The assessment process typically takes between six and nine months and involves information sessions, home visits, preparation groups and background checks.

The focus of the assessment is not whether you are fit to be a parent, but whether you are able to meet the needs of a child who is available for adoption.

You will be allocated a social worker who will prepare a Prospective Adopters’ Report which will be presented to your agency’s adoption panel, recommending the kind of adoption match you would like and may be suitable for.

The panel is a group of about ten experts which makes a recommendation but your agency then makes the final decision on whether to approve you.

If you are approved for UK adoption, your agency will then start the process of trying to match you with a suitable child or children (and you can search for your own match on the Be My Parent website).

Most children adopted in the UK are not small babies, and have a history which has led to their being taken into care.

Many have special emotional and physical needs; others are seeking adoption in sibling groups, but all this will have been discussed with you as part of the approval process.

Once a match is identified and everyone agrees to proceed, another panel will need to decide whether to approve it.

If the match is approved, you and the child or children will then gradually get to know each other before they move in with you (and at this point you will be legally permitted to make decisions about their day-to-day care).

Once your child has lived with your for at least ten weeks, you can apply to the family court for an adoption order to make them a permanent part of your family.

A judge will consider the legal issues, including whether the birth parents consent (or their consent is not required following earlier legal proceedings) and whether the order is in your child’s best interests.

If the adoption order is made, your child will become a permanent member of your family and will take your surname.

The General Register Office will issue an adoption certificate which replaces your child’s original birth certificate.

Adoption is not an easy or a quick process, and adoption agencies are quick to tell prospective adopters that it requires significant commitment. But gay family-building always requires planning and the other options (surrogacy, donor insemination and co-parenting) have their own challenges too.

The key thing is to work out your own priorities about what your family will look like, whether having a biological child (or a baby from birth) is a priority for you, and whether you might be able to offer a home to the kinds of children available for adoption.

The first step in exploring adoption is often to attend an information session with an adoption agency, which is designed to provide an overview of the likely process and timeframe.

There are also some wonderful support organisations, like New Family Social, which give guidance and support to LGBT adopters, and can help you get started.

There may be lots of challenges involved in the adoption process, but the good news for LGBT adopters in England and Wales, whether single or couples, is that legal discrimination is not one of them.

For further information about adoption law please contact Natalie Gamble Associates (www.nataliegambleassociates.co.uk)


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