Adopting in Ireland

Posted by Higgins O Reilly on July 10 2013 @ 12:30

Adoption is the process whereby a child becomes a member of a new family. It creates a permanent, legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the child.

In recent years, adoptions in Ireland have become increasingly rare and many prospective parents now look abroad to adopt a child. This process is calledInter-country adoption.

If you want to adopt a child, whether in Ireland or abroad, the first step is to contact your local HSE Adoption Service.

If you are eligible, have completed a detailed assessment of your suitability to adopt and have a child successfully placed with you, an application for an Adoption Order will be made to the Adoption Authority of Ireland, an independent statutory body, and the Adoption Authority will process the adoption application and make an adoption order in due course. If you are adopting from abroad, the process is a lengthier one. The legislation governing adoption is theAdoption Act 2010.

As adoption is a complex legal process, it is helpful to be aware of the basics of adoption law.

  • The HSE is the competent authority, under the Adoption Act 2010, for the processing of domestic adoptions. Accredited bodies will work with the HSE in all areas of adoption, undertaking those activities for which they are accredited.
  • An Adoption Order secures in law the position of the child in the adoptive family. The child is regarded in law as the child of the adoptive parents as if he/she were born to them. Legal adoption is permanent.
  • All applications for Adoption Orders are made to the Adoption Authority.
  • The law allows the adoption of orphans and children born outside marriage (including, in certain circumstances, children whose natural parents subsequently marry each other). In exceptional cases, the High Court can authorise the adoption of children whose parents have failed in their duty of care towards them (this can include children born within marriage).

Who Can Adopt?

In Ireland, in order to adopt a child, you must be at least 21 years of age and resident in the State. Where the child is being adopted by a married couple and one of them is the mother or father or a relative of the child, only one of them must have attained the age of 21 years.

The following persons are eligible to adopt:

  • A married couple living together,
  • A married person alone. The other spouse's consent to adopt must be obtained unless the couple is living apart and separated under a court decree or a deed of separation, or the other spouse has deserted the prospective adoptive parent or the other spouse's conduct has resulted in the prospective adoptive parent, with just cause, leaving the other spouse.
  • The mother, father or relative of the child (relative meaning a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the child and/or the spouse of any such person, the relationship to the child being traced through the mother or the father);
  • A widow or widower
  • A sole applicant who is not in one of the categories listed above may only adopt where the Adoption Authority is satisfied that, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is desirable. It is not possible for two unmarried persons to adopt jointly.

There are no legal upper age limits for adopting parents, but most adoption agencies apply their own.

Step-parent adoption

A step-parent adoption occurs when a child is adopted by a married couple, one of whom is the natural parent of the child (usually the mother) while the other is not. Both the natural parent and the step-parent must adopt the child in order to avoid the natural parent losing his/her rights and responsibilities to the child. If a child was born within a previous marriage, where the natural parent has now remarried following a divorce or the death of his/her spouse, the child is not eligible for adoption. There is more information on step-parent adoption on the Adoption Authority's website.


The consent of the parent/guardian of the child to the adoption is a legal requirement. If the child is born outside marriage, and the father has no guardianship rights, only the mother's consent is needed. Under the adoption legislation , however, birth fathers are now being consulted (if possible) about the adoption of their children. In situations where the parents are not married and the father does not have guardianship rights, his consent is not necessary for adoption. However, the consent of the father is required if he marries the mother after the birth of the child or he is appointed guardian or is granted custody of the child by court order.

The mother, father (where he is guardian) or other legal guardian must give an initial consent or agreement to the placing of a child for adoption by an approved adoption service. He/she must then give his/her consent to the making of an Adoption Order. This consent may be withdrawn any time before the making of the Adoption Order.

If the mother either refuses consent or withdraws consent already given, the adopting parents may apply to the High Court for an order. If the court is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child, it will make an order giving custody of the child to the adopting parents for a specified period and authorising the Adoption Authority to dispense with the mother's consent to the making of the Adoption Order.

If a mother changes her mind about adoption before the making of the Adoption Order, but the adopting parents refuse to give up the child, she may then institute legal proceedings to have custody of her child returned to her.

When an Adoption Order is made, a new birth certificate can be obtained for the child. Although it is not an actual birth certificate, it has the status of one for legal purposes. It gives the date of the Adoption Order and the names and addresses of the adoptive parents and is similar in all aspects to a birth certificate.

The procedure involved in adopting a child is thorough and takes time, at least a year. When you have contacted your local HSE Adoption Service, you will be invited to attend an information session along with other interested couples, to learn what is involved in the adoption process. If you want to proceed, you ask for the relevant forms to be sent out.


People wishing to adopt should apply to one of the pproved Adoption Societies (see contact information below) or their local HSE Adoption Service. While there is a statutory entitlement to an assessment for inter-country adoption, there is no such entitlement to be assessed for domestic adoption. Applicants being considered by an adoption agency will undergo a detailed assessment. This assessment takes place over a period of time, ranging from 9 to 15 months, sometimes longer. The purpose of this assessment is to establish applicants' suitability as prospective adoptive parents. The assessment is carried out by one of the agency's social workers. It includes a number of interviews and home visits. Where the application is in respect of a married couple, there will be both individual and joint interviews. The social worker will discuss such areas as previous and/or current relationships, motives for adopting, expectations of the child and the ability to help a child to develop his/her knowledge and understanding of his/her natural background. All applicants are required to undergo a medical examination.

If you are planning to adopt abroad, the assessment will also take in issues of the child's cultural background and possible special needs.


The social worker then prepares a report, which goes before the agency committee or (HSE) Area committee and a decision is made.

If you are adopting in Ireland, you will not be entitled to see the report.

If you are adopting abroad, your social worker will share the report's contents with you and you are free to raise any issues you wish. If the social worker agrees, the report can be amended. If the social worker does not agree, after mediation, you can attach a written comment on the disputed matter, which will be submitted to the committee. You have the right to appeal any recommendation/decision made.

Adopting In Ireland

If your application is approved, you will most likely wait a long time before a baby is offered. When a baby is offered, an application must be made to the Adoption Authority, along with your medical records, personal details and three references. The Adoption Authority has statutory responsibility for authorising placements and regulating agencies. A social worker from the Authority will visit you twice before an Adoption Order is made. It normally takes between six to twelve months to process a domestic adoption application to a stage where the Adoption Authority is satisfied to make an Adoption Order.

When the Adoption Order is finally made, you will come before the Adoption Authority and give sworn evidence as to your identity and eligibility. You will also be given information on how to go about getting a new birth certificate for the child. The new birth certificate will normally be available through the Registrar General's Office within four weeks.

How to apply

If you have an enquiry about adoption in Ireland, contact your Health Service Executive (HSE) Local Health Office.

A certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children Register, which can be used for legal and administrative purposes, costs €10. You can download an application form for a certified copy here.

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