If you adopt a child who is living in a country outside Ireland, the process is called intercountry adoption. Adopting a child who is resident in Ireland is called a domestic adoption.
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.
As intercountry adoption is a complex legal process, it is helpful to be aware of the basics of adoption law.
- 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 also has the power to recognise an adoption made outside the State. It was established in November 2010 under the Adoption Act 2010.
- The 2010 Act also ratified the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the ‘Hague Convention’). The only countries recognised by Ireland for intercountry adoption are those that have also ratified the Hague Convention. The Adoption Authority is the Irish Central Authority under the Convention.
Who can adopt?
In order to adopt a child, you must be at least 21 years of age. You must be ordinarily resident in the State and must have resided in the State for at least one year before the date of the making of the adoption order. 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. The Adoption Authority has more information on the eligibility and suitability of those wishing to adopt.
If you wish to adopt a child from another country, you are required to undergo an assessment of your eligibility and suitability. This is carried out by a social worker from the Tusla intercountry adoption service or an accredited body. The social worker then prepares an intercountry adoption assessment report (also called a home-study 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 will grant a declaration of eligibility and suitability.
The declaration 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 declaration is granted for a period of 2 years from the date it is issued. The legislation allows for a 1 year extension if necessary, providing circumstances have not changed.
Choosing a country of origin
As part of the assessment process, you will have decided on a country from which you wish to adopt a child. Under the Adoption Act 2010, Irish residents can only adopt from other countries that have ratified the Hague Convention or from Non-Hague countries with which Ireland has a bi-lateral agreement (Ireland does not currently have any such agreements).
There is only a small number of Hague Convention countries with which Ireland currently engages for the purposes of intercountry adoption. Each country has its own requirements and restrictions with regard to prospective adopters. Specific information on country requirements may be obtained from the Irish agencies accredited to facilitate adoptions from these countries.
The process involved in intercountry adoption is governed by protocols set out in the Hague Convention. Firstly, the Adoption Authority, or an agency accredited by the Authority for such purposes, submits the intercountry adoption assessment report and the declaration (together known as an Article 15 report) to the Central Authority or an accredited agency in the country you wish to adopt from.
Matching a child with your application is done in the country of origin of the child. When a match is made, the Central Authority or accredited body in the country of origin of the child sends a child-study report (Article 16 report) to the Adoption Authority or the Irish-based accredited body. The report will normally contain a background report on the child, the birth-parents (if known), medical history of the child and proof that consents, where applicable, were obtained in the required manner and format.
If the Adoption Authority is satisfied with the suitability of the match, it issues a consent to the placement of the child with you (Article 17). You will be informed and asked whether you wish to accept the child. If you wish, you can travel to the country of origin to see the child before making your decision. Either way, you can change your mind up to the time you adopt the child.
While most countries allow you to adopt the child in the country of origin, there are some who may provide you with guardianship with a view to you obtaining a domestic adoption on your return to Ireland.
Some countries provide guardianship with a requirement that you provide post-placement reports for a prescribed period before finalising the adoption in the courts of the country of origin.
For the child to enter the state, immigration clearance must be obtained from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) in the Department of Justice and Equality. To request your Immigration Clearance Letter, you need to write to:
- Foreign Adoption Unit,
- Residence Division,
- Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service,
- 3rd Floor, 13/14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2
- E-mail: INISfadopt@justice.ie
You will need to enclose:
- A letter of application that includes a daytime contact number
- A photocopy of your passport (and your spouse's)
- Two passport size photographs of you (and two of your spouse)
- The Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability (not a copy)
- A letter from the Adoption Authority stating how many children you can adopt and from what country
These will be returned to you with your Immigration Clearance Letter, when approved. You will need to present this letter to an immigration officer when you return to Ireland..
Notification of Adoption Authority
You must notify the Adoption Authority and Tusla when you bring the child to Ireland for the first time after adoption in the country of origin. They must also be notified if you bring the child to Ireland in order to adopt the child here.
This should be done as soon as you can and must be done within 3 months.
Registering the adoption
If the child was adopted in the country of origin, the final step in the intercountry adoption process is the registration of the adoption. This is the formal, legal recognition of the adoption by the Irish State.
You must submit an application for registration of the adoption to the Adoption Authority within 3 months of re-entering the State, following the adoption. The Authority can register the adoption in the Register of Intercountry Adoptions on the basis of an Article 23 certificate. (An Article 23 certificate is a certificate of assurance from the country of origin of your child that the adoption was carried out in compliance with the Hague Convention.)
The Register of Intercountry Adoptions contains details of the adopted child and the adoptive parents and is a public document open to scrutiny by members of the public. Certificates or copies of extracts from the Register may be obtained from the Authority for the appropriate fee and serve for all legal purposes as a birth certificate for your child.
Some countries require that you provide information on the child’s ongoing condition and progress following adoption. This information is usually provided in reports known as post-adoption reports. These reports are normally compiled by social workers or agencies accredited by the Adoption Authority to provide such services.
How to apply
If you have an enquiry about intercountry adoption, contact your local Tusla intercountry adoption office.
A certified copy of an entry in the Register of Intercountry Adoptions, which can be used for legal and administrative purposes, costs €10. It is available from the Adoption Authority. You can download an application form here (pdf).