Adoption is the creation of a brand new parent-child relationship where there wasn't one before. When an adoption order is made, the adoptive parents take on all of the rights, duties, obligations, and liabilities any parent of the child would have. At the same time, one or both of the child's natural parents are stripped of those rights, duties, obligations, and liabilities, as if they are, and always had been, legal strangers to the child.
This section provides an overview of adoption, and talks about the private adoption process and the process for adopting through the Ministry for Children and Family Development. It also has contact information for the four adoption agencies licensed in British Columbia.
There are two basic kinds of adoption: adoption within a family by a relative or stepparent, with the consent of the natural parent; and, adoption by a stranger through an agency. The first kind can be handled privately through court. The second kind requires either the involvement of the Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia, a contractor of the provincial Ministry for Children and Family Development for children in the care of the government, or the use of a licensed adoption agency for children not in government care. A list of the four adoption agencies licensed in British Columbia is provided at the end of this section.
The rules that guide parents and the courts through the adoption process are in the provincial Adoption Act. As in all legal issues involving children, the courts are primarily concerned with the best interests of the child, and section 3 of the Adoption Act describes a number of the things the court will think about when deciding what is in a child's best interests:
(1) All relevant factors must be considered in determining the child's best interests, including for example:
(a) the child's safety;
(b) the child's physical and emotional needs and level of development;
(c) the importance of continuity in the child's care;
(d) the importance to the child's development of having a positive relationship with a parent and a secure place as a member of a family;
(e) the quality of the relationship the child has with a birth parent or other individual and the effect of maintaining that relationship;
(f) the child's cultural, racial, linguistic and religious heritage;
(g) the child's views;
(h) the effect on the child if there is delay in making a decision.
(2) If the child is an aboriginal child, the importance of preserving the child's cultural identity must be considered in determining the child's best interests.
The Adoption Act talks about four specific types of adoption:
- relative adoptions, where a child is adopted by a relative or stepparent;
- the placement of a child by the child's natural parent or guardian with adoptive parent or parents who aren't relatives, called a direct placement;
- the placement of a child by the Ministry for Children and Family Development, which actually happens through the Ministry's contractor; and,
- the placement of a child by an adoption agency licensed by the Ministry, often including children from outside Canada.
The effect of adoption
Section 37 of the Adoption Act talks about the consequences and meaning of adoption, and says that:
(1) When an adoption order is made,
(a) the child becomes the child of the adoptive parent,
(b) the adoptive parent becomes the parent of the child, and
(c) the birth parents cease to have any parental rights or obligations with respect to the child, except a birth parent who remains under subsection (2) a parent jointly with the adoptive parent.
(2) If the application for the adoption order was made by an adult to become a parent jointly with a birth parent of the child, then, for all purposes when the adoption order is made,
(a) the adult joins the birth parent as parent of the child, and
(b) the child's other birth parent ceases to have any parental rights or obligations with respect to the child.
In other words, an adopted child's new parents become that child's parents for all purposes of the law — the adoptive parents take on all the rights and obligations the birth parents had, which are exactly the rights and obligations that the birth parent or parents lose. Among other things, the birth parent will lose rights like the right to know what's going on with the child's health and schooling, as well as obligations like the duty to pay child support. In a 2003 case of the Supreme Court, L.A.W.Z. v C.D.W., the court talked about this section of the Adoption Act and held that the adoption of a child by the mother's new partner stripped the natural father of his obligation to pay support, effective from the moment the adoption order was made. The Supreme Court noted, at paragraphs 20–23:
"In Clayton v Markolefas, an intestate succession case, the Court of Appeal held that a child adopted ceased to have any succession rights against her birth parents.
"The Court held:
The clear effect of s.37(1) is that the adoptive child becomes the child of the adoptive parent. From that it follows that all parental obligations fall upon the adoptive parents.
"On a plain reading of subsections (1) and (2), [the father] ceased to have any responsibility for [the child] once the adoption went through and I so hold."
In a nutshell, a birth parent stops having any legal interest in the adopted child from the moment the adoption order is made, including with respect to how the child is raised, where the child lives, where the child goes to school, what sort of medical treatment they receive, or how the child is disciplined. In the eyes of the law, the adoptive parents have become the only parents the child has.
Who can place a child for adoption
Section 4 of the Adoption Act says that:
The following may place a child for adoption:
(a) the director;
(b) an adoption agency;
(c) a birth parent or other guardian of the child, by direct placement in accordance with this Part;
(d) a birth parent or other guardian related to the child, if the child is placed with a relative of the child.
Who can receive a child for adoption
Section 5 of the Adoption Act says that a child can be placed for adoption with any one or two people.
Section 29 of the act says that any one or two people can make an application to adopt a child, as long as they live in the province:
(1) One adult alone or 2 adults jointly may apply to the court to adopt a child in accordance with this Act.
(2) One adult may apply to the court to become a parent of a child jointly with another parent.
(3) Each applicant must be a resident of British Columbia.
The Adoption Act doesn't say anything about the required gender or sexual orientation of adopting parents. The adoption of children by same-sex couples is common in British Columbia.
Who must consent to the adoption
According to section 13 of the Adoption Act, all of the following people, if they exist, must provide their consent to a proposed adoption:
- the birth mother of the child,
- the natural father of the child,
- the child's guardian, if someone has been appointed as a guardian of the child,
- the child, if the child is 12 years of age or older, and
- the Director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act, but only if the child is in the custody of the government.
The act also says that a birth mother's consent to the adoption is only valid if she gives her consent ten or more days after the child's birth. The act also says that a parent under the age of 19 may give valid consent to the adoption of their child.
The people who must give their consent can, if they choose, change their mind and revoke their consent, but only if they do so within certain time periods or before certain events happen.
- A birth mother may revoke her consent at any time before the child is 30 days old, or, afterwards, at any time until the child is placed with the adoptive parents.
- A child whose consent is required can revoke their consent at any time until the adoption order is made.
After a child is placed, a person's consent can only be revoked by an order of the court, as long as the application for the order is made before the adoption order. Once the adoption order is made, that's it!
The private adoption process
The two kinds of private adoption process, the type that don't go through the Ministry or an adoption agency, are the direct placement process and the relative adoption process.
Direct placement by a birth parent
To begin this process, the adoptive parent or parents must notify the Director of the Ministry for Children and Family Development's Adoption Division of their intent to adopt a child by filing Form 1 from the Adoption Act Regulation with the Ministry. This form requires you to state: the name of the birth mother; the name of the natural father, if known; an explanation of the circumstances leading to the proposed adoption; and, the names of the adoptive parent or parents.
The Director then contacts the adoptive parent or parents and the child's natural parents to describe the legal consequences of adoption, provide the adoptive parent or parents with information about the child's natural parents, including their medical history, and begin preparing a pre-placement assessment of the adoptive parents. The pre-placement assessment includes:
- a criminal records check of the adoptive parent or parents,
- a check for the parents' past involvement with the Ministry,
- an assessment of the birth mother and natural father, and
- an assessment of the suitability of the adoptive parent or parents and their home to receive a new child.
The adoptive parents must obtain the consent of the following people to the adoption:
- the child, if the child is 12 years of age or older,
- the birth mother,
- the natural father, if known, and
- the child's guardians, if anyone has been appointed as a guardian of the child.
The Adoption Act requires adoptive parents to make "reasonable efforts" to notify the natural father of the intended adoption. If the father's location is known, the adoptive parents should send a Notice of Proposed Adoption to the father by registered mail. The court may require that an ad be placed in the Legal Notices section of the local newspaper's classified ads section to ensure that every effort has been made to find the father and alert him to the proposed adoption. Under certain circumstances, it is possible to obtain an order that the father not be given notice of the adoption.
Once the consent of the child's birth parents and guardians has been obtained, the adoptive parents and the birth parent or guardian become joint guardians of the child. This joint guardianship will last until:
- the court makes an adoption order,
- any of the consents to the adoption are revoked, or
- the court terminates the joint guardianship for another reason.
When these conditions have been met, the birth parents or guardians of the child will transfer custody of the child to the adoptive parents in writing, and the child can go to live with their adoptive parent or parents. The adoptive parents must notify the Director that they have received the adoptive child into their home within 14 days. The Director must prepare a "post-placement report" within six months of the placement of the child in the new home.
Finally, the adoptive parent or parents must prepare and file a Petition for the adoption of the child in the British Columbia Supreme Court, under the Supreme Court Family Rules, once the child has spent six months in their home. The filed Petition and supporting documents must be served on the Director. Part 3 of the Adoption Act provides the details of the court process that will occur after this point, including: the documents that must be filed in court; who must be notified of the proceeding; and, whether the application will require an oral hearing before a judge.
The process for relative adoptions is a lot easier, mostly because the Adoption Act exempts this sort of adoption from the notice requirements for direct placement adoptions. This means that the portion of the adoption process involving the Ministry and the Director of the Adoptions Division can be bypassed, and no assessments or reports are required from the Director.
Stepparents may apply under this process for an order that they become "jointly" a parent of the child with another parent of the child, usually the stepparent's spouse and the natural parent of the child. This is another form of relative adoption. It has the same effect as a normal adoption, meaning that the child's other natural parent — the parent who isn't married to the adopting stepparent — loses all of their rights and obligations as a parent of the child.
Adoption through the Ministry
People who want to adopt a child through the Ministry for Children and Family Development usually do so because they want to adopt a child but don't have any particular child in mind, as is the case with direct placement and relative adoptions.
The first step in this process is to contact the Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia and speak with an adoption worker. The worker will arrange a meeting with the adopting parent or parents, who will have to fill out an adoption application and an adoption questionnaire. The questionnaire asks the adopting parent or parents about the sorts of children they are prepared to adopt, including their racial characteristics, illnesses, mental and physical disabilities, and so forth. The application asks for the following information:
- the name, address, education, and present employment of each applicant,
- the work history of each applicant,
- the cultural and racial background, and religious or belief system, of each applicant,
- the applicants' interests and hobbies,
- the names of other children and other members of the applicants' household, including boarders,
- a statement of the family finances, and
- the names and addresses of four personal references.
You can access a summary of this process on the Ministry of Children and Family Development website. A more succinct summary is available at the Adoptive Families Association of BC website.
The Ministry will also conduct a criminal records check and check for any past contact with the Ministry involving child- and family-related problems.
The worker will then begin a homestudy. A homestudy is an assessment of the applicant or applicants completed over several months through visits to their home. It includes an educational component that prepares the adopting parent or parents to meet the needs of the adopted child.
Once the homestudy is complete, the adoption worker begins the process of matching any available children to the adopting parent or parents. When a match is found and the adopting parent or parents accept the child, they begin pre-placement visits with the child. (If the child lives in a different community, the adopting parents will be asked to visit the child in their home community.) A worker will be present for the first visits. Over time, the adopting parent or parents will begin to spend more time alone with the child and have visits with the child at their own home. If things go well, the adoption worker will make a decision about the suitability of the proposed placement based on what the worker considers to be in the child's best interests.
The steps between the initial application and the match are not particularly quick, and, as a result, that first homestudy may get stale and need to be updated. Be prepared for homestudies to be repeated every 12 months! Criminal records checks and checks for previous Ministry involvement are conducted every two years.
Finally, if all parties, including the Ministry, are satisfied, the child will be placed in the home of the adopting parent or parents. At this point the adopting parent or parents will fill out the Notice of Placement described above. After six months of the child living in the home of the adopting parents, the parents can begin the process of applying to the British Columbia Supreme Court for an adoption order. You should be aware that during the whole of this period, and until an adoption order is made, the Director remains the legal guardian of the child.
Note that if the child is between the ages of seven and twelve, an independent worker will meet with the child to do a report on their views of the proposed adoption. This report will form part of the materials that the court will consider in hearing the adoption application. A child over the age of 12 must consent to their adoption.
The following organizations are licensed by the provincial government under the Adoption Act to operate as adoption agencies. The list of licensed agencies in British Columbia is limited.
102-171 West Esplanade
North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7M 3J9
Toll Free: 1-888-984-2488
The Adoption Centre of British Columbia
620 Leon Avenue
Kelowna, British Columbia, V1Y 9T2
Toll Free: 1-800-935-4237
Resources and links
- Adoption Act
- Adoption Act Regulation
- Child, Family and Community Service Act
- Supreme Court Family Rules
- Ministry of Children and Family Development website
- Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia
- Ministry of Children and Family Development Adoption Division
- Sunrise Adoption Centre
- The Adoption Centre of British Columbia
- "We're thinking about adopting" from Clicklaw's Common Questions
- "We're a gay couple thinking about adopting" from Clicklaw's Common Questions
- Adoption of a Child from Dial-a-Law by the People's Law School
- Adoption Registries from Dial-a-Law by the People's Law School
- Adoption from Legal Aid BC
- Extended Family Program from Legal Aid BC
- Grandparents raising grandchildren: A legal guide from Parent Support Services Society of BC
- Permanent Transfer of Custody of a Child to Someone Familiar in BC from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development
- Intercountry Adoption and the Immigration Process from Citizenship and Immigration Canada
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by JP Boyd, 12 March 2020.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|