No amount of internet research can ever replace professional legal advice. A man found that out when his reliance on flawed web content very nearly cost him the opportunity to complete his family by adopting his stepson.
The man applied for an adoption order two days before his stepson turned 18. On the same day, he gave notice of the application to his local authority. His wife – the boy's mother – and the boy himself supported the application. The boy's natural father at first resisted, but subsequently withdrew his opposition.
The couple, however, had not done a very good job in their internet research. What they did not know was that Section 44(2) and (3) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 requires proposed adopters to give at least three months' notice to their local authority before lodging an adoption application. That requirement had not been complied with and, as the boy had now reached adulthood, it was too late to make a fresh adoption application.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court noted that an adoption order is not just a piece of paperwork. On the contrary, it has enormous spiritual, social and psychological consequences for all concerned. The reason for the notice period is to give local authorities sufficient time to prepare reports and to assess the suitability of proposed adopters. If the notice period were interpreted as a strict and unyielding requirement, then non-compliance with it would preclude the making of an adoption order.
The man was anxious to have his de facto fatherhood officially recognised. He had brought the boy up, and the boy said that he viewed him as his true father, always referring to him as his dad. The application was of overwhelming importance to the family and it was obvious to the Court that refusing it would have enormous psychological and emotional consequences.
In opening the way for the adoption application to proceed to a full hearing, the Court found in the light of legal authority that the notice period was merely directory and that a judicial discretion to make an adoption order remained. The failure to comply with the notice period was accidental and there was no question of bad faith. The local authority had not been impeded or compromised in the performance of its essential role in the adoption process.