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International Adoption: Practical Tips to Assist in This Journey

There are many reasons why families may want to explore adopting a child from overseas, and we’ve highlighted some practical points to help you make an informed decision as to whether this process is right for you. Please note that the tips below relate to adoption into England and Wales only.

Please remember that this is a complex area of law, and it is strongly recommended that you obtain specialist advice from an early stage.  

Court Proceedings

You may need to undergo adoption proceedings both in the country you are looking to adopt from and in England & Wales. 

You should therefore get advice from a specialist lawyer in the country where you are looking to adopt, to provide you with detailed information about the process and any requirements there. Alongside this, you should get specialist advice from a lawyer in England & Wales to ensure that you can take a joined-up approach. 

The process in England & Wales will need to consider the following:

Hague Convention Adoption 

It’s important to understand if the adoption will be made under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operations in respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993 (“1993 Convention”). 

If the child’s origin, and the adoption, takes place in a country which is a signatory to this convention then usually this will be automatically recognised in England and Wales – which is a signatory to the 1993 Convention. 

It is always worthwhile checking if the country where the child is located is a signatory because it will mean that they follow the established regime of assessment, liaison, and recognition between signatories.

Recognition Orders / Domestic Adoption Order

If an overseas adoption takes place, it may or may not be recognised under English law. Usually if a country is a signatory to the 1993 Convention, then the adoption will be automatically recognised, and you will be considered the child’s legal parents in the UK. The Government has a list of the designated countries where automatic recognition is granted.  If the overseas adoption is not automatically recognised, then you will not be considered the child’s legal parents in the UK and you should apply to the Family Court for either a recognition order or a domestic adoption order (made under the Adoption and Children Act 2002). The specific circumstances of your case will determine which of those steps is the most appropriate. 

However, the UK has restrictions on adoptions in some countries. It is always worth checking if the country you are looking at is on this restricted list before you proceed. At the time of writing, the restricted countries are as follows:

  • Cambodia
  • Guatemala 
  • Nepal
  • Haiti
  • Ethiopia
  • Nigeria 

If the country is on the restricted list, not a signatory to the 1993 Convention or not a country where adoptions are automatically recognised, then you may ask the Court in England and Wales to make an exception and recognise the adoption by using what is called the Court’s ‘Inherent Jurisdiction’ – but there are certain criteria that will need to be met. 

Adoption Agency 

You can contact a UK adoption agency either through your local council in England and Wales or a voluntary adoption agency who deals with international adoptions. They can provide you with practical information about the process, the checks that need to be undertaken and the costs involved (although not legal costs). 

Criminal Offence 

It is important to note that this is a heavily regulated area - which it needs to be, in order to ensure the protection of children, birth families and the prospective adopters. If the correct procedures are not followed, then you could be committing a criminal offence – which is why it is so important that you take specialist legal advice. 

Immigration Advice 

Not only is it recommended that you obtain specialist legal advice regarding the adoption processes, but also about immigration law to ensure that you can bring the child home once the adoption has been undertaken overseas. This should also include visa requirements for entry into the UK, whether/when the child can be registered as a UK citizen and obtain a passport.  

As already mentioned, this is a complex area of law so it is important that you enter into this process with a full appreciation of what can be involved.  

At Irwin Mitchell we have a specialist Fertility Law Team of Excellence who can advise you and help guide you through this process.