Step-Parent Adoption – Obtaining Adoption Orders

Where a step-parent has been performing the role of an absent/disinterested biological parent for a long time, the urge to “normalise” the relationship understandably holds strong.  One way to achieve this is through step-parent adoption. Part 1 of this series discussed the effect of an Adoption Order.  In this instalment we discuss the process by which an Adoption Order might be obtained.

The process differs from State to State and time to time. At present in Queensland the following are the steps which must be taken:

  • First, to be eligible, the step-parent must have lived with the child and the remaining biological parent for at least 3 years and the child must be between 5 and 17 years of age.  De facto spouses of the same gender are ineligible to apply.
  • Next, an application must be made to the Australian Family Court for a “leave to adopt” Order. There are no hard and fast rules, but generally cases involving a long history of neglect from the exiting biological parent, a strong bond between child and step-parent and a general positive attitude (within the bounds of safety) to the possibility of the exiting biological parent re-entering the child’s life, are generally approved. The exiting biological parent must be served with the Application and has an opportunity to object, but there is also a process by which service can be dispensed with if the biological parent’s whereabouts are unknown.
  • With a “leave to adopt” Order in hand, an Application to Adopt is then lodged with the Queensland Department of Child Safety (DOCS). The exiting biological parent must sign the form to signify their consent to the adoption. If not, an Application must be made to the Queensland Children’s Court (QCC) for an Order to dispense with consent. The QCC is of course entitled to exercise its own judgement but generally, the evidence put to the Family Court to gain the “leave to adopt” Order should be sufficient.
  • Next, a sub department of DOCS, Adoption Services Queensland (ASQ) will provide the child with age appropriate information and counselling to ensure the child has gained an understanding of what adoption means and the alternatives. ASQ will then undertake an assessment as to the suitability of the prospective adoptive/step-parent. Typically this involves an interview and visit to the step-parent’s household where observations as to the nature and closeness of the child’s relationship with the step-parent can be assessed. ASQ will also consider whether alternative arrangements such as parental responsibility orders, or permission to change a surname might be a more desirable outcome. At the conclusion of the assessment, ASQ will complete a “suitability report” which is released to the parties. If the report concludes that adoption is “suitable” then the step-parent and remaining biological parent can apply back to the QCC for a “final Adoption Order”. The application must be served on DOCS and again on the exiting biological parent, although again, that service can be dispensed with if his or her whereabouts are unknown.  In the hearing of this final Application, the ASQ’s suitability report will be presented to the Court for its consideration. Again the QCC is entitled to exercise its own judgement but it would be highly unlikely for the Court to refuse an adoption where ASQ has determined suitability.

In the next instalment, we discuss theoretically simpler/easier alternatives to formal adoption such as change of surname or Family Court Parenting Orders.

Michael Zande is a Queensland Law Society accredited family law specialist with over 20 years experience in the field. He is the principal at Zande Law Solicitors, Suite 7, Norwinn Centre, 15 Discovery Drive, North Lakes to contact Michael for advice phone 3385 0999.

The information in this article is merely a guide and is not a full explanation of the law. This firm cannot take responsibility for any action readers take based on this information.  When making decisions that could affect your legal rights, please contact us for professional advice.