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Adoption in Scotland: seven common questions from those looking to adopt a child



With Adoption Week 2019 having come and gone, now is the perfect time to bust some myths in relation to the adoption process in Scotland. Here, our adoption solicitor Lynsey Brown looks at some frequently asked questions in relation the law and procedure of adoption and provides clarity on some common misconceptions around that process.

Q. Am I too old to adopt?

Prospective adopters must be over 21, however there is no upper age limit for adoption in Scotland. When being assessed and matched with a child, the local authority will take into account the age of the applicant, however, and when it comes to the adoption Order process at court the Sheriff will take into account the age difference between the adopter and the child, and whether this falls within the ‘usual’ parent-child age parameters when deciding whether the adoption would safeguard the child’s welfare. However, it would not be a determinative factor in and of itself for an adopter to be over the typical upper age range for a parent to the child in question. At Harper Macleod, we have acted in cases where grandparents have adopted their own grandchildren, which illustrates that a larger age gap is not necessarily a barrier.

Q. My stepchild is over 18. Can I adopt them?

No. As the law currently stands, a person over the age of 18 cannot be adopted. The petition to adopt must be lodged in court before the child’s 18th birthday.

Q. Do I have to be married to adopt?

No. Married couples, civil partners, cohabiting couples and single people can all apply to adopt. Cohabiting couples will require to show that they are in an ‘enduring family relationship’ with one another, and while there is no set rule about how long you have to have been together, it is generally thought that you should have been a couple for at least two years.

Q. Do the biological parents have to consent to the adoption?

An adoption order will not be granted unless the biological parents give their written consent, or if the Sheriff considers that their consent is not required. Their consent will only not be required if the Sheriff is satisfied that the biological parent is dead, cannot be found, is mentally incapable of giving consent, is unable satisfactorily to discharge their parental responsibilities or exercise their parental rights and is likely to continue to be unable to do so. The court may also dispense with their consent if the welfare of the child otherwise requires it to be dispensed with.

Q. How long does the adoption process take?

This depends on your route to adoption. For non-agency adoptions, i.e. step-parent adoptions or other family based adoptions, the process can be complete within a few months. The first step is to notify the local authority of your intention to adopt, and then they will carry out an assessment. After that, your solicitor can lodge a petition at court, and a first hearing will be assigned for 6-8 weeks later. In many unopposed cases, the adoption order is granted at that hearing. If, however, the birth parents oppose, the process will take longer and there will be further hearings at court.

For agency adoptions, where children have been placed for adoption by the local authority or other adoption agency, a home study will be carried out which typically takes a few months. A child can be placed with you as little as three months later, although it could take up to a year. After that, the court process will follow.

You can find out more about agency adoptions locally depending on where in Scotland you live. In Edinburgh, for example, the local authority has a dedicated website which includes a step-by-step guide to adopting a child.

Q. Will the biological parents still be able to see the child if the adoption order is granted?

When an adoption order is granted, the biological parent’s legal relationship with the child is severed, and it is replaced with a new parent-child legal relationship between the adopter and the child. The biological parent will only be allowed to exercise contact with the child post-adoption if the Sheriff is persuaded that that would operate in the child’s best interests.

Q. How much does it cost to go through the adoption process?

It depends on your particular circumstances, however in some cases we can offer a fixed-fee package and in other cases the local authority may assist with your costs. Sometimes the cost will relate to the amount of time spent on your case and you also may have to budget for outlays such as court costs or payments to experts. We would have a discussion with you about fees and potential extra costs at the outset of your case.

Q. Where do I start?

You can find out more about agency adoptions locally depending on where in Scotland you live. In Edinburgh, for example, the local authority has a dedicated website which includes a step-by-step guide to adopting a child in Edinburgh. All local authorities throughout the country have their own sites with helpful information on their processes and ways to get in touch with them to take your first steps, including:

Get in touch

At Harper Macleod, our team are experienced in guiding clients through the legal process for adoption from start to finish. Contact our Edinburgh adoption solicitor, Lynsey Brown, for a confidential discussion in the first instance.

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Speak to us today on 0330 159 5555

Get in touch


Get in touch

Call us for free on 0330 159 5555 or complete our online form below to submit your enquiry or arrange a call back.