Adoption is a process of transferring the legal rights and responsibilities from a child’s biological parent to an adoptive parent. Currently, adopting a stepchild in Queensland involves a 3- step process.
Step 1: Leave must be sought and granted by the Family Court of Australia to commence proceedings to adopt the child by the adopting parent
The Family Court of Australia may grant leave for a “prescribed adopting parent” to commence proceedings for the adoption of a child.
A “prescribed adopting parent” refers to:
- A parent of the child;
- The spouse of a parent (married or de facto) of a child;
- A parent of the child and the spouse of the parent.
Before granting leave, the court must consider whether it is in the child’s best interests for leave to be granted for the child’s adoption. If the Court is satisfied that it is in the child’s best interests that leave be granted, an order will be granted permitting the adopting parent to make an application to adopt the children.
Step 2: The adopting parent must be deemed suitable to adopt the child by Adoption Services
In Queensland, Adoption Services Queensland is the government agency that oversees and facilitates adoptions once leave is granted for adoption proceedings to be commenced.
To be eligible to apply to adopt a child, certain criteria under the Adoption Act 2009 must be met. These criteria include:
- The applicant must be at least 18 years of age;
- The applicant must be resident or domiciled in Queensland;
- The applicant must be an Australian citizen or the partner of an Australian citizen;
- The applicant must be the spouse of the child’s parent and have lived with the child and parent for a continuous 3 years prior to the application being made;
- The applicant must have been granted leave by the Family Court of Australia under the Family Law Act 1975 to start adoption proceedings; and
- The applicant must not be of the same gender as their spouse (the child’s parent);
- The child must also be at least 5 years of age but not more than 17 years of age. There is a provision in some circumstances for an application to be made for a child when they have turned 17 years provided that:
- there is sufficient time to complete the adoption process before the child turns 18 years; and
- the grounds for making an adoption order in favour of the applicant are likely to exist.
Upon an applicant meeting the eligibility criteria, they can then make an application to Adoption Services seeking consideration of their suitability to adopt the child.
If the applicant is deemed suitable, Adoption Services will:
- enter the applicant's name in the suitable adoptive parent's register; and
- prepare and provide the applicant with a report stating:
- the applicant has been assessed as suitable;
- whether an order for adoption would better serve the child’s interests than an order under the Family Law Act, any other court order or no order; and
- there are exceptional circumstances warranting the making of the order having regard to:
- the circumstances in which the child came to be living with the applicant; and
- the likely effect on the child of any other parent-child relationship that would be ended by the making of an adoption order.
Step 3: An application must be made to the Children’s Court of Queensland
Once the adopting parent has obtained confirmation of suitability from Adoption Services, they can apply to the Children’s Court of Queensland for a final order for the adoption of the child.
The application must be made jointly with the step- parent’s spouse. The Chief Executive of Adoption Services must also be named as a ‘Respondent’.
The Court may make a final adoption order for a child if the Court is satisfied with the following:
- the child is present in Queensland;
- the step parent is an adult and resident or living in Queensland;
- the stepparent or their spouse is an Australian citizen;
- the stepparent is considered suitable;
- an order for the child’s adoption would better promote the child’s well-being and best interests than an order under the Family Law Act, any other court order or no court order; and
- there are exceptional circumstances and that warrant the making of the order.
Effect of a final adoption order
Upon a child being adopted, the child’s legal relationship with their biological parents and family is severed and the adoptive parents become legally responsible for the child as if they were the child’s biological parents. This means:
- the child is no longer a child of their former parent.
If, however, the final adoption order is for the child’s adoption by the spouse of a parent of the adopted child, the child’s relationship with that parent is not affected.
- a former guardian stops being a guardian of the adopted child;
- a former adoption order stops having effect; and
- in the event of separation from your spouse who is the child’s parent, you would be potentially liable to pay child support for the adopted child as you would be considered a ‘parent’ of the child and therefore deemed to have a duty to financially maintain the child.