Family Law

      Step Parent Adoption or Parenting Orders?

      By Tanya Morris

      In this day in age, when we think of families, we don’t just think of the traditional nuclear family with mum, dad and children. Children can live with and be cared for by others, such as extended family members, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, or they could be part of a blended family.

      When children have a step parent, there may come a time when the step parent wants to adopt their step child or children.

      Common reasons parents consider step parent adoption include:-

      • Death of the other biological parent;
      • Children express they wish to be adopted;
      • Children to have the same surname as a step parent; or
      • The other biological parent has been absent from the child’s life for years.

      Step parent adoption however is not the only option and you may want to also consider Parenting Orders.

      Parenting Orders

      An alternative to adoption, which is viewed as more appropriate in most cases, are Parenting Orders.

      Parenting Orders can provide a step parent with parental responsibility for step children for major long-term issues and day to day decisions, and include specifics about step children’s living arrangements. Parenting Orders can remove a biological parent’s parental responsibility for children.

      Seeking Parenting Orders can be by consent of children’s biological parents, or through Court proceedings.

      When making Parenting Orders, the Family Court of Australia or Federal Circuit Court of Australia, must ultimately consider what is in the best interests of the child or children.


      In order for adoption of step children by a step parent to occur, you need to get permission from the Family Court of Australia. Such an Order is rarely made in circumstances where it is serious and a final legal process. Step parent adoption permanently severs the legal relationship between children and the other biological parent.

      Criteria for a step parent to adopt step children in Queensland are:-

      1. The step parent and biological parent must be married or in a de facto relationship;
      2. The step parent and biological parent must have lived together for at least three (3) years;
      3. The step parent must have lived with the step child or children for at least three (3) years;
      4. The step parent must obtain “leave” (permission) of the Family Court of Australia to commence adoption proceedings;
      5. The step child or children must be at least five (5) years old and have not yet turned seventeen (17) years old;
      6. Either the step parent or biological parent must be an Australian citizen; and
      7. The step parent must be resident or domiciled in Queensland.

      Even if all of the above are satisfied, there is no guarantee that the Family Court of Australia will make an Order for step parent adoption. When considering granting leave for step parent adoption, the Family Court of Australia must also ultimately consider what is in the best interests of the child or children.

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