How to adopt a child

Introduction

Adoptions are managed by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. If you are considering applying to adopt a child you should approach an adoption officer or social worker from the Department. The law of adoption is set out in the ADOPTION ACT 1955.

Age restrictions

Broadly speaking any person under the age of 20 is capable of being adopted.

If you are a stranger to the child you (or, if a couple, at least one of you) must be 25 or over and be at least 20 years older than the child. If you are related to the child the only requirement is that you be 20 or over.

While there are these lower age limits, there is no upper age limit. It would seem, however, that this question would be considered as part of the general assessment of you as a fit and capable parent.

How will Child, Youth and Family Services deal with my application to adopt?

Child, Youth and Family Services will investigate and make a decision whether or not to approve the adoption. You will be interviewed by an adoption officer or social worker. There will also be background checks, such as whether you have a criminal record, and a series of home visits to see the family environment the child will enter into.

DCYFS will look for a secure and stable home and a committed couple, preferably married or in a committed de facto relationship. They will also look for a couple who understand the importance of the child knowing at some point that he or she is adopted; this is seen as the child's right, although it is not legally enforceable (see How to understand the rights of adopted children). The authorities will also often allow a single parent to adopt if satisfied that the person is fit to do so.

Child, Youth and Family Services will also look at:

  • your medical history
  • details of your income
  • details about your religion
  • the availability of any support services to your family

DCYFS may recommend an alternative solution – for example, guardianship (see How to: Guardianship).

Applying for a court adoption order

Once you have obtained approval for the adoption from Child, Youth and Family Services, you will need to get the consent of the court for the adoption.

If DCYFS approve the adoption, you must file an application with the Family Court within one month of the approval. No fee is required.

The court process is in two stages:

  • First, an interim order will be issued if the court considers that the application should be granted.
  • Second, after a period of approximately six months, during which you have limited rights over the care of the child, the court will grant a final order.

The effect of an adoption order

The effect of a final adoption order is that the child becomes the applicant's natural child, and the child's ties to the adoptive parent are the same as they would be to a natural parent.

An applicant may still opt out of the adoption before it is finalised. However, after it has been finalised a court will discharge an adoption only in very exceptional circumstances.

Whatever decisions are made, the court will always put the interests of the child first. They may, in some instances, recommend an alternative such as guardianship, or a parenting order giving day-to-day care of the child (day-to-day care used to be called "custody").

Consent from natural parents and guardians

Generally the child's natural parents and any other guardians will need to give consent. The consent requirements under the ADOPTION ACT 1955 are strictly framed and the court will dispense with them only in exceptional cases. The consent must be independently witnessed and the parent or guardian must be advised of the effect of the adoption order.

Adoptions in exchange for money

It is a criminal offence for a person to give or receive any monetary payment or reward in exchange for adoption.

Overseas adoptions

If prospective parents want to adopt a child from overseas this can be done, but obviously involves a more complicated process. Discuss the matter with Child, Youth and Family Services and they will advise you as to what you will need to do.

If you adopt a child from overseas he or she automatically becomes a New Zealand citizen.

Cautionary notes
  • You should consult a lawyer to guide you through the court process. Your lawyer will ensure that the necessary documents are filed and the necessary consents are given correctly.


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