If you wish to adopt your partner's children so that you become their legal parent and share parental responsibility for them, this is called step-parent adoption.

Adoption is not necessarily appropriate in all step-parent situations. The local authority has a duty to investigate the circumstances and prepare and present a report of their findings to Court.

What is step-parent adoption?

Adoption offers the child a legally permanent relationship with the adoptive parent which they will have all their lives. It means that the resident birth parent and their partner share parental responsibility for the child. There is no automatic right to adoption and it is not appropriate for every child in step-families.

Alternatives to step-parent adoption

There are alternatives to step-parent adoption that may more appropriately secure the child’s place in your family. A step-parent who is married to the resident parent can acquire parental responsibility by entering into a formal agreement with all those with parental responsibility or by applying to the Court for a parental responsibility order or a residence order. The Court, therefore, has a number of options at its disposal:

  • Adoption Order
  • Parental Responsibility Order
  • Parental Responsibility Agreement
  • Residence Order
  • Not making an order

The surname used by a child can be changed by deed poll if all those with parental responsibility are in agreement.

Who can apply for step-parent adoption?

You can apply to be an adoptive parent either individually or jointly with someone else. You do not have to be married. You can apply to the Court for step-parent adoption if all of the following criteria are met:

  • The applicant is 21 or over;
  • The applicant is married to the resident birth parent, or the applicant is living with the resident birth parent in an enduring family relationship (Merton recommends a minimum of 2 years);
  • The applicant resides in the British Isles or has been habitually resident there for at least a year;
  • The applicant has been continually living with the child for at least 6 months;
  • The applicant has notified the local authority in writing of their intention to apply to Court for an adoption order at least 3 months before submitting an application to Court;
  • The child is not yet 18 at the time of application to Court (although the Court can make an order up to the day before the person’s 19th birthday).

Applying for step-parent adoption – step by step

  1. You should make enquiries to the local authority whose area you live in and register an interest in step-parent adoption.
  2. The local authority investigates your suitability to become the child’s adoptive parent and the appropriateness of adoption.
  3. You will be required to give the local authority at least three months’ written notice of your intention to apply to the Court.
  4. An application is made to the Court.
  5. The local authority submits a report to the Court on your suitability and the appropriateness of adoption.
  6. The Court considers your application and the local authority’s report and makes a decision.

What to do next

Contact us on 020 8545 4688 or email adoption@merton.gov.uk to express an interest in step-parent adoption:

A social worker will contact you and invite you to attend a meeting before starting your assessment and checks. Please note that you will need to have the following documents (where applicable) available when you apply to Court:

  1. Child’s birth certificate (full version)
  2. Documents relating to previous marriages
  3. Change of name by deed poll (if applicable)
  4. Documents relating to immigration status (if applicable)

It is advisable to check with the Court officials to confirm everything that the Court will require to proceed with your application.


Download the Step Parent Adoption document

See also

  • Stepchildren and adoption (A BAAF advice leaflet, 9th edition, 2007) - Contains useful information for birth parents and step parents on step-families, the advantages or not of adoption, the alternatives to adoption and obtaining further advice.
  • Joining Together – Jo’s Story by Sheila Byrne (BAAF, 1999) part of the "My Story" series. This title is about a step-parent adoption.
  • Step-families: Living successfully with other people's children by Suzie Hayman (Vermillion, 2001) - offers practical and positive strategies for coping with the emotional issues likely to concern a new combination of parents and children as well as coping with the ongoing presence of the ex-partner.
  • The Relate Guide to Second Families by Suzie Hayman, (Vermillion, 1999)

Related websites

Contact us

Adoption and Permanence Team
Merton Civic Centre
London Road
Morden SM4 5DX

Email adoption@merton.gov.uk
Telephone 020 8545 4688