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


If you are considering having your child adopted by your spouse or domestic partner, it is important that you understand all the choices for the care of your child, including adoption.

Adoption is permanent. It is important that you consider all options before making a decision.

This booklet is mainly about adoption, but it covers other arrangements for providing additional security to your child.

History of Step Parent Adoption in Victoria

Before the current adoption legislation was introduced in 1984, adoption of children by their step parents and relatives was becoming more common. In the 1970s the numbers of step parent adoptions increased as divorce and remarriage became more common.

As a response to widespread community consultation across Australia at the time, changes in legislation were introduced which enshrined into law the preference for families to use other methods of legally recognising non-biological relationships in families, namely orders made through the Family Law Act 1975.

The Family Law Act itself was amended in 1975 to state that when making orders in relation to a child, the Court’s paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. This resulted in a shift in focus from parental ‘rights’ to parental responsibility. The terms ‘custody’ and ‘access’ were changed to residence and contact to reflect this change. From this time, the rates of step-parent and relative adoptions, which had already fallen dramatically, continued to fall even further.

Even with the changes to the Family Law Act, some families continued to seek adoption orders. In 1981 there were 1422 step parent or relative adoptions in Australia. With many step parent and relative adoptions continuing to occur, questions and concerns in the community arose about the appropriateness of step parent and relative adoptions as a means of establishing the legal status and family relationships of children.  When the new Adoption Act was made, the circumstances under which a step parent or relative adoption could occur was limited.

Requirements of the Adoption Act 1984

The Adoption Act still provides for the adoption of a child by a step parent or relative. However, in considering such an application, the court must be satisfied that three conditions are met. These are:

a. that an order of the Family Court would not make adequate provision for the welfare and interests of the child; and
b. exceptional circumstances exist which warrant the making of an adoption order; and
c. an adoption order would make better provision for the welfare and interests of the child.

These requirements reflect that parenting orders under the Family Law Act are considered the most appropriate way to provide legal recognition to care-giving arrangements within families. 

Stable and long-term care other than adoption

Many families have arrangements whereby the child is cared for and lives with people other than their natural parent. If they wish to formalise these arrangements with a legal order they may apply to the Family Court for a Parenting Order.

A Parenting Order has a number of components:

  • residence: who the child will live with
  • contact: who the child spends time and communicates with
  • specific issues: any other matter relevant to the child’s care, such as schooling or medical treatment.

The Parenting Order can be designed to suit the individual circumstances of the parties. The court will consider what is in the child’s best interests.

Any person concerned with the care, welfare or development of the child may apply for a Parenting Order. The Family Court requires that when a person other than a parent makes an application, the parties must attend a conference with a family consultant, and the court considers a report by the consultant.

A Parenting Order does not affect the child’s birth certificate or inheritance rights, although the child’s name may be changed. Parenting Orders include obligations on the parties involved, and parties must  comply with the terms of the order.

What is an adoption order

Adoption orders are usually granted in the County Court.

The granting of an adoption order means that the child’s adoptive parent becomes the legal parent.

The order will affect the child’s birth certificate and may affect the child’s name and inheritance rights. Please note - these can both be changed without an adoption order.

The following terms are used to describe parents in this document:

  • Natural parent: refers to both biological parents of the child.
  • Non-custodial parent: refers to the parent who does not live with the child and who will lose their legal relationship with the child if they are adopted.
  • Custodial parent: the parent with whom the child lives with, and who will continue to be parent of the child being adopted.

The adoption order usually includes arrangements for contact between the child and the non-custodial parent and/or other relatives, and/or exchange of information about the child.

Application may be made to the court to establish or vary conditions around ongoing contact or information exchange.

For step parent adoptions, the order can only be made if Adoption Services provides a report to the court, which will comment on the step parent’s fitness and propriety to adopt as well as the child’s views and understanding.

Adult adoptions

Some families choose to apply for an adoption order after the child has turned 18. An adult adoption reflects that the person to be adopted has been brought up by someone who is not on their birth certificate. Adult adoptions are simpler than the adoption of children as families can apply directly to the court with no involvement of adoption services and no need for the consent of the natural parents. Another advantage of adult adoptions is that the person to be adopted has the opportunity to make the important decision about their identity for themselves, after considering the complexities of what adoption means for them as an adult.

Considering adoption for a child


Under the Adoption Act 1984, both parents must receive counselling before consenting to the adoption of their child.

A counsellor from the adoption service will discuss with you all the possible options for caring for your child. Written information is given, in the form of this document as well as the ‘Notice to parent considering placing a child for adoption’. Referrals to other agencies or services may be arranged. You will be given all the time you need to consider your options.

The purpose of counselling is to assist you in making an informed decision about options for the care of your child by providing support and information, and by assisting in exploring relevant issues.

Adoption is complex, as it involves the complete severing of the legal relationship to one parent, and their extended family, as well as a change in identity for the child. Children who are adopted will gain a new birth certificate, with their new adoptive parent listed as their parent at the time of their birth. Their non-custodial natural parent will not be listed at all. Some adopted people experience this as a significant loss, and wish that their birth certificate more accurately reflected the true circumstances of their birth and heritage. 

Adoption in Victoria is Voluntary, and requires the consent of both parents, if they are known.

As the custodial parent, you will retain all your parenting rights for your child, and if the adoption is granted, you will have equal rights with your spouse or partner who adopts the child.

The non-custodial parent will lose all rights to the child and they will no longer be listed on the child’s birth certificate.

Written information must be given to both the custodial and non-custodial parent at least seven days before consent is signed. This is to make sure that everyone has enough time to think about all the information in this booklet and to consider the alternatives to adoption.

If you consent to the adoption of your child, it is important that you understand the effects of an adoption order, and that you make the decision without undue influence or pressure from any other person.

Once an adoption order is granted

The County Court makes decisions about adoption orders. The granting of an adoption order causes major legal changes affecting the child’s relationship with their non-custodial parent.

Adoption information services

Adoption information services are provided to eligible applicants. These services provide information regarding past adoptions and may also assist eligible applicants to find relatives from whom they have been separated by adoption.

A record of all applicants is kept on the Central Register. Adopted people, natural parents, adoptive parents, natural relatives and adult children of adopted persons may register their wishes regarding exchange of information or contact. They may also apply to receive information about the adoption.

Before information or documents are given to applicants, they will be offered counselling with an approved counsellor.

Adult adopted people receive a copy of the court records pertaining to their adoption (including a copy of their original birth certificate) and any records held by the agency who arranged the adoption.

Adopted people under the age of 18 years need each of their adoptive parents’ or guardian’s agreement in writing before obtaining any information. To obtain identifying information, they need the agreement of their natural parents as well.

Natural parents may obtain identifying information about the adult adopted person. If the adopted person is under eighteen years, the agreement of adoptive parents’ or guardian is required and views of the adopted child must be considered.

Adoptive parents may obtain information about the adopted person’s background, other than information from which a natural parent may be identified.

Relatives may initially only be given non-identifying information. Identifying information can be provided only with consent of the adult adopted person. If the adopted person is under eighteen years, the adoptive parents’ or guardian must agree and the adopted person’s wishes must be considered.

Adult children of adopted people have the same rights to information as adopted people. However, the adopted person must be informed of the enquiry or evidence of death of the adopted person provided.


[1] David Brodzinsky, Megan Gunnar, and Jesus Palacios. (2022) Adoption and Trauma: Risks, recovery and the lived experience of adoption Child Abuse and Neglect Volume 130 pages 1-12.

[2] Amanda Baden, et al (2019) Delaying Adoption Disclosure: A Survey of Late Discovery Adoptees, Journal of Family Issues Vol. 40(9) (1154–1180.).