In 2014/15 there were 207 applications to adopt and of these, 152 were granted. In the 2010s the number of applications was falling – in 2010/11 there were 253.
Critiquing the law
In 2000 the Law Commission 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 substituted for 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 was also sometimes used in the arrangement known as surrogacy, to transfer legal parenthood from the woman giving birth to the people who arranged for her to have the child.
Adoption in New Zealand remained regulated by the Adoption Act 1955, which set up the governing framework.
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. 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. Only a married couple 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 stepparent adoption, the replaced original parent and their family are no longer legally related to the child.
De facto decision
Under the Adoption Act 1955 only married couples or single people can adopt. However, in June 2010 the High Court allowed a de facto couple to adopt the woman’s child together. Her partner had been a parent to her son throughout the couple’s 10-year relationship, but was not his legal father. If he applied to adopt the child as an individual, the mother’s legal rights as a parent would be terminated. The judges decided that the couple’s 10-year relationship meant they should be considered spouses and allowed to adopt together. The case sparked calls for changes to adoption law.
Adoption law controversy
Many reports over the years had recommended an overhaul of the Adoption Act 1955. Critics were concerned that the act 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.
However, in the 2010s the act remained in force.
Because there were few children available for adoptions 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.