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Adopt a child you know

Mostly when people apply to adopt, they do not have a specific child in mind. Occasionally however, people want to adopt a child they know, such as a step-child, a relative or a person who has been in their care.

Adopt a step-child living in Victoria

Adoptions by a step-parent are rare in Victoria.  In Victoria, adoption orders are made by the County Court. In the case of a child of a spouse (step-child)  the person(s) wanting to adopt the child must apply directly to the Court.

Adopt a relative living in Victoria

In Victoria, adoption orders are made by the County Court. In the case of a child of a relative, the person(s) wanting to adopt the child must apply directly to the Court. A child’s relative includes grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts.  

Adult adoption

Adoption is usually associated with young children, but it is also possible for adults to be adopted. Often, this is to formalise an existing close relationship within the family.

There are no adoption agencies involved in adult adoptions. Adoptions involving a person over 18 years of age does not require the involvement of Adoption Services. Instead, applications can be made directly to the Victorian County Court. An application is completed with supporting affidavits from the applicant and adult adoptee.

For more information, visit Adoptions, parentage and name changes on County Court Victoria.

Steps to adopt a relative or step-child in Victoria

Step 1: Consider whether an adoption order is required

Many people who have the care and responsibility of a known (step/relative) child want to clarify their rights, responsibilities and commitment in raising the child and ensure the security of their relationship.

At first glance, adoption may appear to have immediate advantages for your child and your family. In the past, step-children were often adopted by their step-parent, with adoption seen as a way to include children in a parent’s new marriage.

Over time, concerns emerged about this practice. Many known (step/relative) children who had been adopted experienced grief about the loss of half of their family background, as well as confusion about their identity. Some of the issues that arise from adoption in this circumstance are:

  • adoption permanently severs the legal relationship between the child and relatives who are, or could be, significant to the child
  • adoption can be used to prevent contact with the child’s extended family of origin, who no longer have a legal relationship with the child
  • children may feel that they have to choose between different adults who are all important to them. This is painful at the time and can lead to problems as they grow older
  • children who have been adopted often feel a sense of loss because one of their parents ‘gave them up’ to someone else. They may feel a sense of being cut off from their past
  • an adopted child may blame the parent or step–parent as they sometimes idealise the ‘lost’ parent in their absence, remembering only the good things about the relationship.

There may also be practical disadvantages to adoption. For example, an adopted child loses any rights to maintenance and inheritance from the birth parent and that parent’s family, such as grandparents and siblings. This may not seem important at the time of adoption but could matter very much if financial problems were to arise later or if the parent they are living with and the step-parent/relative died while the child was still dependent.

In recent years, awareness has grown of how important it is for a child to know about their background. The Adoption Act reflects the view that a child should not lose their identity, connection and legal relationship with their other family just because their parents’ relationship did not survive.

Sometimes people will seek an adoption of a child to change that child’s surname. An alternative is to change that child’s name without an adoption order. You can find out more from Births Deaths and Marriages.

Step 2: Seek leave from the Family Court

Parenting orders under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) deal with parenting arrangements and can decide who has responsibility for a child.

The Adoption Act 1984 does not prevent a person from making an application for an adoption order in Victoria if leave of the Family Court has not been granted. Without leave, a natural parent’s parental responsibility under the Family Law Act does not stop.

For more information about parenting orders:

Step 3: Make an application to the County Court 

For more information, visit Adoptions, parentage and name changes on County Court Victoria.

Step 4: The Court will request the department to investigate

Before the Court can make an adoption order, they must receive a report from Adoption Services. As part of this report, Adoption Services will interview:

  • Any person adopting the child
  • Any parent that will be ceasing to have guardianship of the child
  • If it is a step-child adoption, the natural parent who will remain the parent of the child
  • The child if they are old enough
  • Any other person who may be affected by the application

Under s15(1) of the Adoption Act 1984, the Court cannot make an adoption order without receiving this report. The report will include details about your family and the circumstances and information the Court is required to consider. This will include:

  • Where the child is the child of a spouse or a partner or a relative of one of the applicants, the Adoption Act specifies that the Court may not make an adoption order unless it is satisfied that an adoption order would make better provision for the welfare and interests of the child than a parenting order issued by the Family Court under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).
  • The Act also requires that the Court must be satisfied that 'exceptional circumstances' exist which warrant making the order.
  • The wishes of the child will be taken into consideration (where practicable and appropriate given the child’s age and circumstances).
  • Plans for the child’s contact with their natural parents and the information that will be provided to them about the child.

If the adoption is agreed to by a natural parent, Adoption Services will arrange for that parent to provide formal consent. This requires the parent(s) to receive counselling from a counsellor approved by the Department of Justice and Community Safety. The counsellor will work with the parent(s) to ensure that they understand the effects of an adoption order and can provide free and informed consent to the adoption.

The counsellor will provide the natural parent with the following written information, depending on their circumstances:

Information for parents considering adoption of  their child by a relative or relatives

Information for parents considering adoption of their child by a step parent

Information for parents considering adoption of their child  by their spouse or domestic partner 

The counselling process consists of a series of interviews, and a formal signing of consent with 2 witnesses. This means that the relinquishing parent(s) will need to receive counselling and consent to the child being adopted. In some circumstances a parent’s consent will not be required.

Step 5: The Court will hear the matter

Known child applications (step/relative) must satisfy the court on the following:

  • A family law order would not make adequate provision for the welfare and interests of the child but an adoption order would.
  • There are exceptional circumstances which warrant the making of an adoption order.

If the child has a parent that has not provided formal consent, the Court can only make an order if their consent is dispensed with.

Step 6: The Court will notify Births Deaths and Marriages

After a child is adopted, a new Registration of Birth is provided which reflects the adoptive situation. With a Family Court Order, the child’s Registration of Birth is not altered.

A child’s name can be changed to that of the step-parent, if desired. An adoption order is not required to do this. With the permission of the non-custodial parent, you may apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to change the child’s name on the Registration of Birth. The child’s name can also be changed if there is no other surviving parent, or with the approval of the Family Court.

Once the Adoption has been registered by Births Deaths and Marriage, you can apply for a new Birth Certificate for the child.

Relative and known non-relative child living overseas

You may want to adopt a child that is your relative or that you know that is living overseas.

Adoption Victoria is unable to assist with these applications unless the request is initiated by the Central Authority of the country where the child resides. 

Overseas known child adoptions are only possible when there are no other placement options in the child’s country and an intercountry adoption is in the best interests of the child. 

The overseas authority has to send a request to Adoption Victoria, including a report that confirms the child is legally adoptable and requiring intercountry adoption. Adoption Victoria will consider this information and provide a written outcome to the overseas authority.

Steps to adopt a relative/known intercountry child

Step 1: Contact the overseas Central Authority

You must contact the Central Authority in the country of origin for the child to inform them of your intentions to adopt the child. 

The relevant authority has to conduct an assessment of the child to confirm that they are legally adoptable and requiring intercountry adoption. This information is to be sent directly to Adoption Victoria via email:

Step 2: Adoption Victoria accepts or declines the request

Adoption Victoria will consider the request and provide a written outcome to the overseas Central Authority to accept or decline the intercountry known child request.

Adoption Victoria can only accept requests that:

  1. Meet full compliance with relevant Australian and international child welfare laws and guidelines. This includes requirements set out in the Hague Convention, Australia National Practice Agreement, and Victorian Adoption Legislation and Regulations.
  2. Include sufficient information about the child and their circumstances to demonstrate that an intercountry adoption in in their best interests.

Step 3: Submit adoption application (if your request is accepted)

If Adoption Victoria agrees in principle to accept the intercountry known child adoption request, we will invite you to submit a formal application to our program.

You will be subjected to the Victorian intercountry adoption process, including a comprehensive assessment of your eligibility and suitability to be an adoptive parent. 

Adoption Victoria will work with the overseas relevant authority to complete the relevant adoption processes and set up an agreement on post placement supervision requirements.

National Practice Agreement

Australia's Department of Social Services has created a National Practice Agreement Factsheet. It has more information about adopting a child know or are related to.

National Practice Agreement Factsheet - Intercountry Known Relative and Non-relative Adoption
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Learn more about relative/known intercountry child adoption