Back to News

How does Adoption Law work in Northern Ireland?

Adoption can transform lives – however it can be a lengthy and challenging process; one which requires commitment, dedication and emotional and legal support. 

Adoption Law is the legal process that gives adopters legal parental rights for a child as if the child was born to them and ends the parental rights of the birth parents. Adoption is a complex area of law which involves multiple stakeholders, often with competing interests. 

Wilson Nesbitt Partner Ciara Brolly & Associate Shannon McLorie on our Family Law team specialise in this area of law, including international, intercountry, domestic and step-parent adoption cases. 

If you are considering adopting a child, Ciara and Shannon have the in-depth knowledge to support and guide you through the Adoption Law processes and will ensure you are clear on all the facts. Our team understands the procedures entailed- and are here to make it as stress-free as possible for you and your family. Shannon outlines some of the commonly asked questions about how adoption works in  Northern Ireland;

How do I adopt a baby in Northern Ireland?

You must be at least 21 years old to adopt a child not related to you. Adoption agencies decide who is suitable to adopt. An adoption agency is a local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust or voluntary adoption agency. Adoption agencies usually consider each applicant’s circumstances.

Who can adopt a child?

Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether they are married or single, their age, income, or sexual orientation. Having a disability does not automatically disqualify a prospective adoptive parent.

  • Legally you must be over the age of 21 to adopt in the UK. There is no upper age limit although it is preferred that applicants should not be more than 45 years older than the child they would like to adopt.
  • All status is accepted, whether individual, married, in a civil partnership, or living with a partner. Non married couples and same sex couples may apply. Gender or sexuality spectrum will not impact an application to adopt. The term ‘couple’ does not extend to individuals who are related.
  • Applicants may or may not have birth children of their own.
  • Applicants may have already taken care of the child or children in the capacity as a foster carer.
  • Applicants may be related to the child or children.
  • Applicants will take part in an assessment to establish whether they can adequately care for a child and meet their emotional as well as physical needs. The health and well-being of applicants will be established, as well as parenting skills, understanding children’s needs, and the existence of a support system.

What are the three main types of adoption?

Domestic or Placement Adoption 

This applies to children resident in the UK and involves the adoption of a child from local care arrangements via foster or kinship care approved adopters. 

Step-parent Adoption 

A step-parent already taking responsibility for the daily care of a stepchild may seek to share legal responsibility via adoption with the child’s parent (their partner). 

Intercountry Adoption 

This concerns the adoption of a child from other jurisdictions. This is undertaken via the Regional Intercountry Adoption Assessment Service (RIAAS). Different legal requirements or restrictions may be in place

How long does an adoption assessment take?

The assessment process aims to recruit adoptive parents who have the time, health and energy to meet the demands of raising the child.

The adoption process can take an incredibly long time, which can cause serious strain and stress for some families. Usually, the time it takes to adopt a baby can be anywhere from several months to a year or more, and the wait time can be even longer to adopt a child through international adoptions.

The Adoption Assessment

  • An assessment can not be undertaken while fertility treatment or investigations are ongoing.
  • Experience of parenting or caring for a child will be helpful but all circumstances are considered.
  • Assessment will consider the emotional, physical, and financial security of applicants.
  • Applicants may be in full or part time employment and will be required to make use of Statutory Adoption Leave.
  • All applicants will be required to attend a preparation course to help ensure that Adoption is the right path.
  • Assessment involves a police record check, a social services record check, a full medical and the name of two referees.

What is an Adoption Order?

An Adoption Order severs all legal ties with the birth family and gives rights and responsibilities to the new adoptive family. The adopted child becomes a full member of their new family.  

When adopted into a family, the child:

  • takes the surname
  • has the same rights and privileges including inheritance as if they were born to the adoptive parents

In Northern Ireland, an Adoption Order makes provision to: 

• enable a statutory duty to be placed on the Health and Social Care Board (and HSC Trusts) to provide an adoption service; 

• place certain restrictions on arranging adoptions and placing children for adoption;

 • enable children to be freed for adoption with or without parental agreement; 

• provide for the care and protection of children awaiting adoption; 

• provide for the status of adopted children; and the registration of Adoption Orders; 

• enable adopted adults to obtain access to their birth records; and

 • enable the introduction of schemes for the payment of allowances to adopters and prospective adopters in certain circumstances.

The birth parents have no legal rights over the child, they cannot claim the child back.

What if I want to adopt my foster child?

If you’re considering adoption from fostering, the first port of call is to get in touch with your foster care service. They will then be able to give you the information you need to decide whether to adopt. 

What children are eligible for adoption?

To be eligible for adoption, a child must be under18 years old and unable to go home to live with their birth parents. A child cannot be adopted if:

  • they’re married
  • they were married
  • they’re in a civil partnership
  • they were in a civil partnership

Am I entitled to maternity, paternity or adoption leave?

Adoption pay and leave entitlements for adoptive parents are similar to the pay and leave rights available to birth parents. If you’re working when your adopted child joins your family, you’ll usually be entitled to paid time off work known as Statutory Adoption Pay and Leave

If you’re adopting as a couple, only one person will be able to get adoption leave, although the other parent might be able to get shared parental leave or paternity leave If you’re adopting a child through surrogacy, you might be entitled to 52 weeks leave from work. 

Some companies have more generous adoption leave schemes for their employees than others, so be sure to check your employment contract or staff handbook for details.

How much is statutory adoption pay?

If you are taking adoption leave through your employer, you‘ll be entitled to statutory adoption pay. As with maternity pay, the amount you’re entitled to will decline with time.

  • First six weeks: 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax.
  • The next 33 weeks: £151.97 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less).
  • The next 13 weeks: unpaid.

How can we help with adoption? 

Shannon and our family law legal team assist people throughout the adoption process, from initial guidance to legal representation in the family court. 


  • Domestic adoption – where a child is placed by a Local Authority or UK Adoption Agency
  • Private family adoption – adopting stepchildren or close relatives
  • Same-sex couple adoption rights
  • Surrogacy – in cases where a person has had a child through a surrogacy arrangement but does not meet the requirements for a Parental Order, we can help them apply for an Adoption Order.
  • Assisting with international adoption and the legal implications
  • Adoption Orders made abroad – legally recognising an Adoption Order made outside of the UK
  • Domicile – advice on whether adopting parents, are entitled to adopt in the UK
  • Re-establishing contact – legal advice for contacting a birth parent, birth family members or the adopted child
  • Post-adoption contact cases
  • Problems involving post-adoption support from a local authority

Get in Touch

Having the right legal support will ensure that you and your child are protected throughout the journey. We can offer you discreet legal advice, guide you on what your options are, let you know whether you will qualify and what the costs will look like. 

Ready to take the next step? Call our team on 028 9022 7808 or send us your details to get started.

Adopting a Child Information & Support

Get in touch

To find out more about how we can help you with your query, please contact us.