A guide to blended family adoptions

  • November, 2021

A guide to blended family adoptions

By Donna Yamazaki

If popular culture is any indication, the only adoptions that ever occur are those by one- or two-parent families welcoming a stranger’s baby into their home.

In fact, it is much more common for adoption to happen in blended families and between people who are related either by blood or marriage.

In many cases, these adults and children are already effectively family, but want to formalize their relationship in a way that can have a lasting and positive impact on both of their lives.

B.C.’s Adoption Act lays out the road map for a journey that, in my experience, is almost always rewarding and emotionally fulfilling. Still, as with any process that requires the blessing of a court, it can be a tricky one to navigate.

To get you started, I will take you through the steps that the key people involved need to take in order to obtain a formal adoption order.

The child

The entire process under the Adoption Act is guided primarily by the best interests of the child, but the legislation sets different rules depending on their age. For example, if the child is over the age of 12, an adoption cannot be completed without their consent.

While children under the age of seven do not have any say in their adoption, the law requires those between 7 and 12 to meet with an authorized person – usually a child specialist or social worker – who can explain, in private, what the process means and get the child’s views on the adoption and any proposed name change. The expert’s report goes to the judge for their consideration when they are deciding on the application.

The adoptive parent

Adoptive parents in blended families come to me in many different situations.

For example, an uncle or aunt may want to adopt the child of a deceased sibling, or a birth parent in a second marriage may wish to have their new spouse adopt their child from a previous relationship.

Every individual family’s unique circumstance will guide how we approach the adoption, but it is possible for one adult to apply on their own, or for two adults to move forward with a joint application. This is typically the case for stepparent adoptions when the birth parent applies together with their new spouse.

The adoption applicants will also have to gather several documents, including the child’s original birth certificate or a certified copy.

The birth parents

In general, a child’s birth parents – or anyone else appointed as their guardian – must consent in writing to the adoption.

In the typical stepparent case, the agreement of one birth parent is a given, because they are making the application jointly with their new partner.

Getting the other birth parent’s consent may not be as straightforward, depending on the state of their ongoing relationship with the child and their former partner.

I always tell a birth parent who is not my client to seek independent legal advice before giving their consent, because the consequences are significant. They need to understand that as well as giving up their parental obligations – including child support payments – they will also be forgoing their right to have a say in the child’s upbringing, or even see them.

It is possible to go ahead without a birth parent’s consent, although the court will only allow it if strict conditions are met.

If you are interested in blended family adoption or want to find out more, contact me or one of the other family law practitioners at Hamilton Fabbro’s Vancouver office.