Story: Adoption

Page 5. Adoption in the 21st century

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By the 2010s domestic adoptions had fallen to low levels. 253 applications to adopt New Zealand children were granted in 2010/11, and 200 in 2016/17.

Critiquing the law

In 2000 the Law Commission, after wide consultation, produced a report on adoption in New Zealand. It criticised the Adoption Act 1955 on a number of grounds, including that birth parents giving up a child for adoption were not required to get counselling or independent legal advice. Concern was expressed about adoptive parents being shown as the birth parents on the child’s birth certificate. Many adoptive parents who made submissions to the commission saw this as ‘excessive and unnecessary, and even ludicrous where an open adoption is practised’.1

Adoption rules

In the 21st century adoption in New Zealand remained regulated by the Adoption Act 1955. It is one of the oldest statutes still in regular use. 

No advertisements or payment

It is a criminal offence to place an advertisement offering or requesting a child for adoption, and illegal to pay a parent or any other person to secure a child for adoption.

Consent to adoption

To be adopted, you must be aged under 20. Your consent is not required. The birth mother’s consent is normally required (except in special cases of abuse, neglect or incapacity), and she can give this no matter how young she is. Her child must be at least 10 days old when she signs the consent form. Consent is very difficult to withdraw. The birth father’s consent is required only if he is married to the mother, or is otherwise a guardian of the child, or if the Family Court considers it ‘expedient’ to get his consent. If a birth father wants to oppose an adoption, he can apply to the court for guardianship and the adoption cannot proceed until this has been decided. Once consent has been signed, the adopters can take the child home with the approval of a social worker. They obtain an interim adoption order and can apply for a final order six months later.

Who can adopt

To adopt a related child, an applicant (or one of the applicants in a joint application) must be 20 or older. If the applicant is not related to the child, they must be at least 25, and at least 20 years older than the child. Married and de facto couples can apply to adopt jointly. A single person may apply, but a single man may not apply to adopt a girl unless there are special circumstances.

A new birth certificate

When the final order is made, a new birth certificate is issued showing the adoptive parents as the child’s only parents from the date of birth. Legally, adoption replaces all the child’s birth-family relationships with those of the adoptive family. So if a woman adopts her grandson, his mother becomes his sister. In a step-parent adoption, the replaced original parent and their family are no longer legally related to the child.

Adoption law controversy

Many reports over the years had recommended an overhaul of adoption legislation. Critics were concerned that the 1955 Act came from an outdated social context, did not embody the principles of informed consent or pay enough attention to the rights and welfare of the child, and did not allow de facto or same-sex couples to adopt. Nor did it provide any legal backing or safeguards for open adoption arrangements.

Since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, married same-sex couples have been able to adopt a child together, as the Adoption Act 1955 provides for adoption by married couples or spouses. In 2010 the High Court ruled that the phrase 'two spouses' in the Adoption Act 1955 included heterosexual de facto couples, not just married couples. In 2015 another High Court ruling said that 'spouses' included same-sex de facto couples. However, civil unions were not included in this definition. These rulings sparked further calls for changes to adoption law. 

The Human Rights Review Tribunal ruled in 2016 that sections of New Zealand adoption laws were discriminatory and outdated. The Human Rights Commission has also advocated for reform. Despite these criticisms, the Adoption Act 1955 and the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 remained in force in 2017.

Adoption and surrogacy

By the early 21st century there were increasing numbers of adoptions related to surrogacy. When a woman acts as a surrogate, giving birth to a child for another person or couple through reproductive technology, the transfer of parenthood takes place through adoption. There are no available statistics on such adoptions.

Adoption alternative

Because there were few children available for adoption in the 21st century, some people chose to become foster parents of children who could not live with their birth parents. Foster children can be permanently placed, meaning foster parents share guardianship with the birth parents but are awarded sole custody by the courts.

  1. Adoption and its alternatives: a different approach and a new framework. Wellington: Law Commission, 2000, p. 170. Back
How to cite this page:

Anne Else, 'Adoption - Adoption in the 21st century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2024)

Story by Anne Else, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Apr 2018