Alternatives to Adoption

Families can often change following a relationship breakdown and/or divorce. Often, new partners become part of the larger blended family. These new partners can become a parent figure and take responsibility for the child/children. Yet many step-parents do not have parental responsibility for the children for whom they are caring for in these new blended families.

Parental Responsibility Order or a Child Arrangement Order

There are alternatives to step-parent adoption which are sometimes more appropriate and a simpler way to give the step-parent legal status in respect of the child without ending the child’s legal relationship with the absent parent. You might want to consider a Parental Responsibility Order or a Child Arrangement Order

  • A Parental Responsibility Agreement or Order - To obtain one of these you need the formal agreement with all those who hold Parental Responsibility, you need that agreement to enable you acquiring parental responsibility or a Court Order. A Parental Responsibility Agreement will have the effect of giving the step-parent parental responsibility for the child so that they have the rights and responsibilities for the child as outlined above without automatically removing those rights from others.

  • A Child Arrangement Order - These orders state that a step-parent who lives with the child/children would have the same legal rights as parental responsibility for so long as that Order remained in place, which could be until the child is 18 years of age. This order used to be known as a Residence or Contact Order. As a step-parent you would require the Court’s permission to issue this application in the first place.

  • Change your name by deed poll - You can change the name of a child under 18 (sometimes called a “minor”) by “enrolling” their new name at the Royal Courts of Justice. If you are 16 or 17 you can choose to make your own deed poll instead. For more information please visit


Special Guardianship Orders (SGO)

The Children Act 2002 introduced a new legal status for non-parents who are caring for or wish to care for children in a long-term, secure placement whilst preserving the legal link with the child’s natural birth parents. A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an order of the court under the Children Act 1989 which grants the holder(s) parental responsibility over a child until they reach the age of 18. This enables the special guardian(s) to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child, for example in relation to their education.

There are some things that special guardians cannot do or decide without the permissions of the parents/others with parental responsibility or the court, such as:

  • Changing the child’s surname.
  • Placing the child for adoption.
  • Taking the child abroad for more than 3 months.
  • Granting parental responsibility to a father or step-parent.
  • Granting the child permission to marry.


In practice, this means that the child is no longer the responsibility of the local authority, and the special guardian will have more clear responsibility for all day-to-day decisions about caring for the child or young person and for taking important decisions about their upbringing, for example their education. More importantly, although birth parents retain their legal parental responsibility, the special guardian only has to consult with them about these decisions in exceptional circumstances.

A Special Guardianship Order also means that contact can be maintained between the birth family and child, as long as this is in the child’s best interest. How this contact happens and how often it takes place is dependent on the individual case and can be decided by court.