Adoption is the process whereby a child becomes a member of a new family. It creates a permanent, legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the child.
Adopting a child who is resident in Ireland is called a domestic adoption. If the child is living abroad, the process is called intercountry adoption.
An adoptive mother (or a man who is a sole adopter) is entitled to avail of adoptive leave from employment.
As adoption is a complex legal process, it is helpful to be aware of the basics of adoption law.
- Tusla - the Child and Family Agency is the competent authority for the processing of domestic adoptions. Accredited bodies work with Tusla in all areas of adoption, undertaking those activities for which they are accredited.
- An adoption order secures in law the position of the child in the adoptive family. The child is regarded in law as the child of the adoptive parents as if he/she were born to them. Legal adoption is permanent.
- Adoption orders are made by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. It was established in November 2010 under the Adoption Act 2010.
- The law allows the adoption of orphans and children born outside marriage (including, in certain circumstances, children whose natural parents subsequently marry each other). In exceptional cases, the High Court can authorise the adoption of children whose parents have failed in their duty of care towards them (this can include children born within marriage). See the Tusla website.
Types of domestic adoption
A step-parent adoption occurs when a child is adopted by a married couple, one of whom is the natural parent of the child (usually the mother) while the other is not. Both the natural parent and the step-parent must adopt the child in order to avoid the natural parent losing his/her rights and responsibilities to the child. If a child was born within a previous marriage, where the natural parent has now remarried following a divorce or the death of his/her spouse, the child is not eligible for adoption.
Some of the rules on step-parent adoption will change when the relevant provisions of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 come into effect.
Extended family adoption
An extended family adoption occurs where a member of the child’s family or a relative adopts the child. The child would have been placed with them by the birth mother or by the Tusla child care system.
Domestic infant adoption
Domestic infant adoption is where a child is placed with an alternative set of parents. The child may only be placed with the couple by the Tusla adoption service or registered adoption society. The Adoption Authority must approve the placement before it takes place.
Long term foster care adoption
Foster care adoption occurs when a couple adopt a child who was originally placed with them in a foster care situation.
There is more information on the different types of domestic adoption on the Adoption Authority’s website.
Who can adopt?
In order to adopt a child, you must be at least 21 years of age and resident in the State. Where the child is being adopted by a married couple and one of them is the mother or father or a relative of the child, only one of them must have attained the age of 21 years.
Some of the rules about who can adopt will change when the relevant provisions of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 come into effect.
At present, the following persons are eligible to adopt:
- A married couple living together
- A married person alone. The other spouse's consent to adopt must be obtained unless the couple is living apart and separated under a court decree or a deed of separation, the other spouse has deserted the prospective adoptive parent or the other spouse's conduct has resulted in the prospective adoptive parent leaving them, with just cause.
- The mother, father or relative of the child (relative meaning a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the child and/or the spouse of any such person, the relationship to the child being traced through the mother or the father)
- A widow or widower
- A sole applicant who is not in one of the categories listed above may only adopt where the Adoption Authority is satisfied that, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is desirable. It is not possible for two unmarried persons to adopt jointly.
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 provides that civil partners and cohabiting couples may jointly adopt a child. The relevant sections of the Act have not come into effect. These sections have been replaced by similar provisions in the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017. These provisions are not yet in effect.
There are no legal upper age limits for adopting parents. Tusla has more information on who can adopt.
The consent of the parents/guardians of the child to the adoption is a legal requirement. If the child is born outside marriage and the father has no guardianship rights, only the mother's consent is needed, but the father is entitled to be consulted (if possible). However, the consent of the father is required if he marries the mother after the birth of the child or he is appointed guardian or is granted custody of the child by court order.
The mother, father (where he is guardian) or other legal guardian must give an initial consent or agreement to the placing of a child for adoption by Tusla or an approved adoption service. They must then give their consent to the making of an adoption order. This consent may be withdrawn any time before the making of the adoption order.
If the mother either refuses consent or withdraws consent already given, the adopting parents may apply to the High Court for an order. If the court is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child, it will make an order giving custody of the child to the adopting parents for a specified period and authorising the Adoption Authority to dispense with the mother's consent to the making of the adoption order.
If a mother changes her mind about adoption before the making of the adoption order, but the adopting parents refuse to give up the child, she may then institute legal proceedings to have custody of her child returned to her.
Birth Father Register
A birth father, with no guardianship rights, is entitled to be consulted about the adoption of his child. If you are concerned that your partner or former partner intends placing your child for adoption without letting you know, you can ask the Adoption Authority to notify you by recording your details on the Birth Father Register. You can do this even before your child is born, if necessary. This register is checked against all applications for adoption.
Applicants being considered for adoption undergo a detailed assessment. The assessment is carried out by an adoption society or Tusla social worker. It includes a number of interviews and home visits. Where the application is in respect of a married couple, there are both individual and joint interviews.
The social worker will discusses such areas as previous and/or current relationships, motives for adopting, expectations of the child and the ability to help a child to develop his/her knowledge and understanding of his/her natural background. All applicants are required to undergo a medical examination.
The social worker then prepares a report which goes before the local adoption committee and a recommendation is made.
Declaration of eligibility and suitability
Your application for assessment, the report and the local adoption committee’s recommendations are sent to the Adoption Authority. If all documents are in place and correct, and the recommendations are positive, the Adoption Authority grants a declaration of eligibility and suitability.
The declaration is granted for a period of 2 years from the date it is issued. It may include in it a statement relating to the age or state of health of a child whom you are considered suited to parent – this is based on information provided in the assessment report.
The period of time between the granting of the declaration of eligibility and suitability to the making of an adoption order differs from one case to another depending on the type of adoption application being made and the particular circumstances of the applicants and the child.
In the case of a step-parent adoption where the child is in situ, it is expected that the application for the adoption order will progress during the lifespan of the declaration of eligibility and suitability. Where it is a domestic infant adoption, there is no guarantee that a couple will be matched with a child during the lifetime of the declaration. Before making an adoption order the Adoption Authority must be satisfied that the child is eligible to be adopted.
You can find information on the issues that may arise after the declaration is issued on the Authority’s website.
When the adoption order is finally being made, you go before the Board of the Adoption Authority with the child and give sworn evidence as to your identity and eligibility. You will have previously completed a form indicating the name that you want on the adoption order for the child. This can be changed at the adoption hearing but it is preferable for this to have been agreed on before the date of the hearing.
Find out more about the adoption hearing here.
At the adoption hearing, you are given information on how to go about getting a new birth certificate for the child. The new birth certificate (adoption certificate) is normally be available through the Registrar General's Office within 4 weeks. Although it is not an actual birth certificate, it has the status of one for legal purposes. It gives the date of the adoption order and the names and addresses of the adoptive parents and is similar in all aspects to a birth certificate.
How to apply
A certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children Register, which can be used for legal and administrative purposes, costs €10. It is available through the Registrar General's Office. You can download an application form or apply online here.