Adoption is the permanent transfer of legal rights and responsibilities for a child from a child’s biological parents to adoptive parents. The process severs the legal relationship between birth parents and their child. In the Northern Territory, the Adoption of Children Act 1994 governs the adoption process. This article explains the legal implications of adoption in the Northern Territory.

Adoption in the Northern Territory

It was once relatively common for infants and orphaned children to be put up for adoption. Parents sometimes also found it necessary to relinquish the care of their older children, because of ill health, family breakdown, or poverty. These days, it is rare for parents in the Northern Territory to consent to the adoption of their child. When a parent is unable to care for their child, the NT government can take temporary custody through foster care. This arrangement assigns some legal rights to Territory Families, Housing and Communities (TFHC) as guardian of the child for a certain period of time. The aim of this process is the eventual reunification of the child with his or her biological parents. When a parent wants to relinquish their parental rights, the TFHC Adoption Unit can arrange an adoption.

All parents named on a birth certificate must give consent to an adoption in the Northern Territory. However, a birth mother has no legal obligation to name the birth father on the birth certificate. Therefore, a biological mother can sign adoption papers without the father’s consent as long as the father’s name is not listed on the child’s birth certificate. A biological parent can only sign an adoption consent form seven days after receiving comprehensive advice on the legal aspects of adoption. The parent then has another 30 days to reconsider their decision before the adoption becomes legal. The parent can withdraw their consent in writing at any point during this period, even if they have also signed a temporary placement arrangement. After the 30-day waiting period, the birth parents no longer have legal parental rights. Adoption in the Northern Territory is finalised with a court order once the child has successfully resided with their adoptive family for a year. The Births, Death and Marriages Office will then issue a new birth certificate naming the adoptive family as the child’s parents.

Eligibility to adopt in the Northern Territory

Except in special circumstances, a person wishing to adopt in the Northern Territory must be:

  • an Australian citizen;
  • married or in a de facto relationship for at least two years when the adoption is finalised;  and
  • over 25 and no more than 40 years older than the child, or up to 45 years older if the parent has custody of another child.

A single person can only adopt a child in the Northern Territory in exceptional cases, when it is in the best interests of the child. These types of applications are assessed on whether the prospective parent is already familiar with the child, and their suitability to meet the child’s needs.

Adopting a stepchild

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia may approve the adoption of a stepchild under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). An individual can only adopt their stepchild if the non-custodial parent (who is listed on the birth certificate) consents to the adoption and willingly relinquishes their parental rights. For a stepchild adoption, both the child and parents must be residents of the Northern Territory. Children who are over the age of 12 must agree to the stepparent adopting them.

Open adoption

In the Northern Territory, preference is usually given to open adoption, as it is in the child’s best interest to be aware of their background. In an open adoption, children know they are adopted and are given information about their biological origins.

Children in an open adoption may have regular contact with their birth family, as long as this is in the child’s best interest. In these cases, adoptive parents will often agree to keep the biological parents informed about the welfare of the child after the adoption is finalised.

Even with a closed adoption, a child may still wish to seek out their birth family. A child can apply to the Department for their birth information when they are 16 years old, as long as they have their adoptive parents’ consent. When the parents do not consent, the child can apply after they turn 18.

Adoption from outside Australia

The Adoption Unit also facilitates adoption from overseas countries, such as India, Taiwan and Thailand. A person who wants to adopt overseas must follow Australian government procedures and meet the criteria set by the adoptive country. In this way, the adoptive country can stipulate an adoptive parent’s age, health, marital status and cultural requirements. For instance, Columbia gives preference to Australian applicants with Columbian heritage and those applicants who speak Spanish (or are willing to learn).

Adoption process in the Northern Territory

The first official step in the adoption process is for an individual to submit an Expression of Interest Form. At this time, the applicant must declare that they are physically and mentally capable of caring for a child, that they have not previously been convicted of child abduction or child abuse, had a child removed from their care, or had an adoption registration rejected or cancelled. The Adoption Unit will contact the applicant to make further arrangements. A panel from Territory Families assesses and selects prospective adoptive parents from approved applicants. This panel considers the applicants’ background, family structure, lifestyle, relationships, religion, culture, health, fertility and motivation to adopt. The most important criterion in the selection process is whether applicants would be suitable parents for the child. The biological parent has a right to express their preferences when it comes to the adoptive parents’ ethnic background, religion, age and lifestyle. The adoptive parents must fulfil a range of obligations, including attending a two-day mandatory Adoption Training with the Department.

Costs of adoption in the NT

It is illegal in the Northern Territory to use monetary inducement to influence adoption arrangements, to pay for consent to adopt a child, or pay to receive custody of a child.

However, prospective adoptive parents are responsible for all costs associated with a child’s placement and the legal fees involved in finalising the adoption. Adopting a child from overseas can also incur processing and translation fees, and visa, travel and immigration charges. Some countries require an applicant to undergo a psychological assessment, which is also paid for by the adoptive parents.

Contact Go To Court Lawyers for any assistance with finalising an adoption in the Northern Territory. Please call 1300 636 846 for help with this or any other legal matter.

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