International adoption is not just for the likes of Madonna and Angelina Jolie.
International adoption began in the 1950s. Since then, over 3,000 families have given children from 74 different countries a new home in the UK.
If you’re thinking about becoming one of them, there’s a lot you’ll need to find out about. Whether you’re looking into this for humanitarian reasons or because you already have ties to another country, international adoption brings its own rewards and challenges - legally, logistically and financially.
So if you’re thinking about overseas adoption, where do you start? Here are some pointers.
• Are you eligible? You need to be eligible to adopt in both the UK and the overseas country you’re hoping to adopt from. From the UK standpoint, that means you need to be aged 21 or over, and to have lived here for at least a year. There’s no upper age limit. Your gender, sexual orientation and relationship status don’t matter, either. However, they might in the country you want to adopt from. Oher countries may have totally different criteria about things like marital status, health and finances. You’ll have to meet all their conditions as well.
• Understand the procedures. The government handles all international adoption applications. You can’t be matched with a child until the government has issued a Certificate of Eligibility, which can only be done after a detailed suitability assessment. If you make contact with a child before this, the overseas government may refuse you permission to adopt them. Also, at the moment, adoption is not allowed at all from Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal or Haiti.
• Get legal advice as early as possible. Once you’ve been assessed as suitable and matched with a child you will need a court order to finalise the adoption. Usually that happens in the child’s home country. Sometimes, though, you can bring them back to the UK and apply to court here (although they’ll need a special visa to come back for this purpose, and that could take several months to arrange). It’s also essential to be clear ahead of time that an overseas adoption order will be recognised in the UK. If not, there may be legal steps you need to take here, too.
• Make sure you’re not stopped at the border. Getting an adoption order overseas isn’t enough on its own to make sure that your child can legally enter the UK with you. If you don’t sort this out in advance you risk being stopped at the airport - not the homecoming you’ve been dreaming of. You’ll need entry clearance, unless your child has a British passport, so it’s essential to seek professional immigration advice before you book your flights.
• What about British citizenship? Once you’re settled in at home, it’s worth considering whether you want your child to have British citizenship. If your child comes from one of nearly 100 countries worldwide, they’ll automatically get this under an international agreement (provided at least one adopter is a British citizen and living in the UK). Otherwise, you’ll need to apply to the Home Office on their behalf.
Adoption changes children’s lives, strengthens families, and enhances our society as a whole. It’s essential that the future for a child who isn’t able to live with their biological family starts on the right track. You can help safeguard that future by getting good legal advice and support from the beginning.
Dianne Millen is an international family lawyer and Stuart McWilliams is an immigration lawyer at independent law firm Morton Fraser