Step-parent adoption is a legal process for a step-parent to become the permanent adoptive parent of his or her spouse's child. Adoption permanently severs the legal relationship between the child and his or her non-custodial birth parent and that parent's family.
Step-parent adoption applications are carefully assessed as serious consequences result when an adoption order is made. If a child is adopted by his or her step-parent, the child no longer has a legal relationship with any member of the non-custodial parent's family (including the non-custodial parent, grandparents and any brothers and sisters who are not also adopted).
The assessment of a step-parent's application to adopt a child can only commence if:
- the step-parent is eligible to apply to adopt the child
- the non-custodial parent consents to the child's proposed adoption by the step-parent or the need for that parent's consent is dispensed with by the Queensland Childrens Court.
The assessment considers a range of matters including the significance of the child's non-custodial parent and family to the child.
Table of contents:
- Eligibility - who can apply?
- How to apply to adopt a step-child
- Applications relating to a child who has turned 17 years of age
- What happens after a step-parent applies to adopt a step-child?
- Information counselling and support provided to children
- Assessment of application
- What happens after the assessment?
- Application fee and assessment fee
- Further information
A step-parent (the married or de facto spouse of a parent) seeking to apply to adopt a child must meet the eligibility criteria set out in the Adoption Act 2009.
A child's step-parent is able to apply to adopt the child if:
- the person is an adult who is resident in Queensland and is an Australian citizen (or the spouse of a Australian citizen)
- the person lives with the child and spouse and has done so for at least three years
- the person has been granted leave by the Family Court of Australia under the Family Law Act 1975 (Commonwealth) to commence adoption proceedings
- the child is at least five years old and not more than 17 years old
- an application may be accepted in relation to a child who has turned 17 but is not yet 18 years of age in some circumstances.
A de facto spouse who is the same gender as his or her partner is not eligible to apply to adopt his or her partner's child.
An application by a step-parent seeking to adopt a child who is 17 years of age may be accepted only if the step-parent can demonstrate that there is likely to be sufficient time for all processes associated with the application to be completed before the child turns 18 years of age.
This includes demonstrating there is sufficient time for:
- the step-parent's eligibility to be decided
- prescribed information and pre-consent counselling to be provided to
- any parent whose consent to the child's adoption is required
- the child subject to the proposed adoption, where able to form and express views about the adoption
- the 30 day period in which a parent can revoke consent to the child's proposed adoption to expire, or
- where applicable, the step-parent to apply to the Queensland Childrens Court for the need for a parent's consent to be dispensed with, to serve notice on the relevant parent of the application and for the Court to hear the matter
- information required to inform the assessment of the step-parent's suitability to adopt the child to be obtained, including the step-parent's criminal and domestic violence history, traffic history and information from the Queensland Police Service
- the home study assessment to be undertaken and a report of the assessment findings to be prepared
- the step-parent to make application for a final adoption order, and for the Queensland Childrens Court to hear the matter.
After a step-parent lodges an application form and Adoption Services determines that the person is eligible, attempts are made to obtain the consents required for the child's adoption.
If Adoption Services:
- becomes aware that a parent does not wish to consent to the step-parent adopting the child
- cannot establish the identity of the child's parent after making all reasonable enquiries
- cannot locate the child's parent after making all reasonable enquiries, then the step-parent is notified that it has not been possible to obtain the consent of each of the child's parent then, step-parent's application to adopt the step-child cannot progress further unless:
- Adoption Services receives new information that shows the parent wishes to give consent, or confirms the parent's identity or the whereabouts, as applicable, or
- the step-parent makes an application to the Queensland Childrens Court for an order to dispense with the need for the consent of the parent.
The step-parent may apply to the Queensland Childrens Court for an order dispensing with the need for the consent of the parent when the identify of the parent is unknown or the parent cannot be found or does not wish to give his or her consent.
If the step-parent does not make an application to the court, the adoption cannot proceed.
If the Court does not make an order dispensing with the need for the parent to consent, the adoption cannot proceed.
If all the consents are obtained, or the Court dispenses with the need for consent, and the step-parent pays the assessment fee, the step-parent's suitability to adopt the step-child will be assessed.
Where a child to be adopted is able to form and express views about the adoption, Adoption Services will arrange for the child to be given information and counselling to help him or her form views about the proposed adoption, understand adoption, and the alternatives to adoption.
The child's age and ability to understand is considered. The information and counselling have to be given in a way the child can understand.
If a child is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, counselling must be carried out in a way and at a place appropriate to Aboriginal tradition or Island custom and may be provided, in part, by an appropriate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.
The Queensland Childrens Court must consider the child's views before deciding whether or not to make an adoption order for the child.
The department can obtain information for the assessment by:
- asking the applicant and his or her spouse to complete a workshop or similar educational activity
- visiting the applicant's home and talking with the applicant, spouse and children
- talking with referees nominated by the applicant and anyone else with relevant information
- obtaining expert advice about the applicant's health
- appointing an adoption contract worker to assist in the process
- asking the applicant to prepare documents, for example a profile of the family
- obtaining information from government departments including criminal and domestic violence history, and investigative information and traffic history from the Queensland Police Service.
The assessment of whether a person is suitable to be an adoptive parent of the step-child must take into account information regarding a range of matters, including information about:
- the step-parent's capacity, and that of other people in the household, to protect the child from the risk of harm
- the step-parent's capacity to be an adoptive parent
- whether the step-parent is of good character
- the step-parent's understanding of adoptive parenting
- quality of the step-parent's relationship with his or her spouse
- nature, closeness and quality of the child's relationship with the step-parent and other members of the household
- ability and willingness to help a child maintain contact with the child's community or language group, if applicable.
In deciding whether a step-parent is suitable and whether adoption would best serve the child's interests and whether there are exceptional circumstances that warrant the making of the order, the department must also consider:
- the circumstances in which the child came to be living with the person
- the likely effect on the child, both through childhood and the rest of his or her life, of permanently ending the parent-child relationship between the child's biological parents and the child (even if the biological parent/s are no longer living).
If the step-parent is assessed favourably, the department will prepare a suitability report for the Queensland Childrens Court.
The report will state that the applicant has been assessed as suitable to be the child's adoptive parent and advise of the Chief Executive's recommendations regarding:
- whether the Chief Executive considers an order for the child's adoption would better serve the child's interests than an order under the Family Law Act 1975 (Commonwealth), any other court order or no court order
- exceptional circumstances that warrant the making of the order.
The department will provide the step-parent with a copy of the suitability report prepared for the Queensland Childrens Court.
When the assessment has been completed and the step-parent has received a copy of Adoption Services's suitability report, the step-parent and his or her spouse is then able to apply to the court for a final adoption order.
The application must be made jointly with the applicant's spouse.
The applicant must serve a copy of the application on the department and on every parent of the child (unless a parent cannot be found after making all reasonable enquiries).
A parent who has consented to the child's proposed adoption by a step-parent, but wishes to contest the application, may apply to the court to be a respondent.
After being served with a copy of the application, the department must lodge a copy of the suitability report in the court.
After an application for a final adoption order is lodged, the Queensland Childrens Court must decide whether to make an adoption order in favour of the child's step-parent. The Court can do this, only if satisfied that:
- the child is present in Queensland
- the step-parent is an adult who is resident or domiciled in Queensland
- the step-parent or his/her spouse is an Australian citizen
- the step-parent is suitable, having regard to the matters that must be considered in assessment
- an order for the child's adoption by the step-parent would better promote the child's wellbeing and best interests than an order under the Family Law Act 1975 (Commonwealth) , any other court order or no court order
- there are exceptional circumstances that warrant the making of the order.
A step-parent seeking to apply to adopt a step-child is required to pay an application fee and an assessment fee.
The application fee and assessment fee are set out in the Adoption Regulation 2009 and are subject to change.