Adoption is the process whereby a child becomes a member of a new family. It creates a 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 assessment of domestic adoptions, which they then submit to the Adoption Authority of Ireland for review and approval. 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.
- Adoption orders are made by the Adoption Authority of Ireland which was established in November 2010 under the Adoption Act 2010. The Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 changed some of the rules on adoption.
- Under the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 all children are now considered equal in terms of their eligibility for adoption. The Act allows for children born to married parents to be adopted. It also allows for children who were previously adopted to be adopted again. See the Tusla website. Under the Act the best interests of this child are recognised as the most important consideration in any adoption application.
- A guardian is an adult who has legal rights and duties in relation to a child. The birth mother of a child is automatically a guardian of the child. As the father of a child, to have guardianship status, you must either be married to the mother at the time of the birth, have married the mother after the birth of the child and re-registered the child’s birth to reflect this, or you obtained guardianship through a court order or statutory declaration.
- A relevant non-guardian has a right to be consulted about a
proposed adoption. A relevant non-guardian can be:
- The parent of a child who is not a guardian
- A type of guardian who doesn’t have the right to consent to an adoption
The Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 also includes a provision that within 10 months of the passing of the Act the Minister must initiate a review and consultation about the introduction of open or semi-open adoption in Ireland. This review should include public consultation and legal and policy analysis.
Types of domestic adoption
Under the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017, a person can apply to adopt their partner’s child. Their partner can consent to the adoption and still keep their parental rights and responsibilities – sharing them with their partner after the adoption order is made. The child must have lived with their parent and prospective step-parent together for a minimum of 2 years.
Previously, if you wanted to adopt your partner’s child, your partner would also have to apply and you would adopt the child as a couple.
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 an accredited adoption agency. The Adoption Authority of Ireland 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 of Ireland’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 couple and one of them is the mother or father or a relative of the child, only one of them must have reached the age of 21 years.
The following people can adopt:
- A married couple living together
- A couple living together in a civil partnership
- A couple who have been cohabiting together in a relationship for a minimum of 3 years
- 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 sole applicant who is not in one of the categories listed above may only adopt where the Adoption Authority of Ireland is satisfied that, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is desirable.
There are no legal upper age limits for adopting parents.
Consent and consultation
Consent is a necessary approval by a birth mother or any other guardian(s) to a proposed adoption. It must be given in writing using an official consent form. The birth mother and/or 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.
The consent can only be given after counselling has been received as consent must be given in a free and informed manner. The social worker must be satisfied that you understand the implications, legal and personal, of the decision you are making.
If the mother or guardian withdraws consent already given after the child has been placed for adoption, the adopters 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 of Ireland to dispense with the mother's or guardian'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.
If a mother or guardian can not or will not consent to a proposed adoption, the adoption can only proceed by an order of the High Court. An application must be made to the court by Tusla or the adopters, which must prove that the parents of the child have failed in their duty to the child, and that this failure can be considered legally as an abandonment of their parental rights and duties. For this application to be made the case must first be heard before the Board of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. Rules for these hearings can be found on the Adoption Authority of Ireland's website.
Relevant non-guardians have a right to be consulted about an adoption. A relevant non-guardian is a person who is recognised as the parent of a child but who is not a guardian, or a type of guardian who doesn’t have the right to consent to an adoption.
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 of Ireland 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.
There is a similar register for other relevant non-guardians.
Applicants who are looking to adopt undergo a detailed assessment. The assessment is carried out by an accredited adoption agency or Tusla social worker. It includes a number of interviews and home visits. If the application is from 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 have 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 of Ireland. If all documents are in place and correct, the Adoption Authority of Ireland will consider the recommendations and decide whether to grant 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. If your declaration is about to expire you can apply to have it extended for 1 extra year, provided there have been no changes in your circumstances.
New rules about applying for, granting and removing declarations of eligibility and suitability came into effect on 1 January 2018. You can read the rules around declarations of eligibility and suitability (pdf) on the Adoption Authority of Ireland’s website.
Best interests of the child
When it decides on an application for adoption, the Adoption Authority of Ireland always places the best interests of the child first. The Authority will consider all the following:
- The child’s age and maturity
- The physical, psychological and emotional needs of the child
- The likely effect of adoption on the child
- The child’s views on his or her proposed adoption
- The child’s social, intellectual and educational needs
- The child’s upbringing and care
- The child’s relationship with his or her parent, guardian or relative as the case may be
- Any other circumstances affecting the child
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 of Ireland must be satisfied that the child is eligible to be adopted.
When the adoption order is finally being made, the child and adoptive parents go before the Board of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the adopters give sworn evidence as to their identity and eligibility. They will have previously completed a form indicating the name that the child wants on the adoption order. 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. More information about this day is on the Adoption Authority of Ireland's website, including age-appropriate videos and leaflets for children.
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 available through the Registrar General's Office within 4 weeks. Although it is not an actual birth certificate, it has the status of one and replaces the birth certificate 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
If you have an enquiry about adoption in Ireland, contact your local Tusla adoption service.
A certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children Register, which can be used for legal and administrative purposes, costs €20. It is available through the Registrar General's Office. You can download an application form or apply online here.