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Re L (A Child: Step-Parent Adoption) [2021] EWCA Civ 801

A father’s unsuccessful attempt to appeal against an adoption order in favour of the child’s step-father.

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An appeal by a father against an adoption order relating to the adoption of an 11-year-old boy 'L' by his mother's partner. The mother and child's guardian had consented to the order, but the father (with parental responsibility) had opposed.

The issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the order should be set aside as the judge had not been referred to or considered the leading domestic case on step-parent adoptions (Re P (a Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1174).

After a casual, non-exclusive relationship, the mother fell pregnant with L. The mother did not tell the father she was pregnant with his child. L was initially brought up believing the mother's then partner, Mr B, was his father. When L was about 3 years old, the father discovered from a DNA test that L was his son. The father successfully applied for a child arrangements order so that he could spend time with L. Contact did not run smoothly. The mother and Mr B separated. Due to his behaviour towards the mother, the father was made subject of a community order following criminal proceedings.

L's surname was changed from that of Mr B to that of the father, and the father was granted parental responsibility. The mother then met the step-father and they started a relationship, bought a house and had a child. They plan to marry in autumn 2021.

The contact arrangements broke down and, at the time of the appeal, L had not seen his father for four and a half months.

The evidence confirmed that L was the driving force behind the adoption application and the judge heard emphatic evidence from both the adoption social worker and the child's guardian that adoption was in L's interests.

The Court of Appeal held that, whilst it would have been helpful had the judge been referred to Re P, the order should not be set aside. The judge had properly applied the relevant statutory requirements, particularly as a lower test is prescribed where the application is made by a step-parent rather than a stranger. Although the judge had not specifically addressed the mandatory requirements regarding contact under section 46(6) Adoption and Children Act 2002, each of the elements of that section had been considered in the judgment and the court's obligations under that section had been satisfied.

Case summary by Dr Sara Hunton, Barrister, Field Court Chambers

For full case, please see BAILII