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What is adoption?

4-minute read

Adoption is a process that permanently transfers all the legal rights and responsibilities of being a parent from the child’s birth parents (their biological parents) to the adoptive parents.

Different types of adoption

There are 2 main types of adoption in Australia.

Intercountry adoption

This is when a child is adopted from an overseas country and brought back to Australia to live. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department has primary responsibility for managing intercountry adoptions with the country that the child is adopted from. They also work with the various state and territory departments involved.

Local adoption

This is when the child to be adopted was born or is permanently living in Australia. The adoptive parent (for example, a step parent) may previously have known the child. Alternatively, they may have had no previous contact or relationship with them.

The legal process in adoption

Anyone who intends to adopt a child needs to obtain an adoption order, which legally transfers all parental rights and responsibilities from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. Any legal rights that the child has in relation to their birth parents, such as inheritance, are removed. The child may also get a new birth certificate recording the adoptive parent or parents' names, as well as the child’s new name, if this was changed.

Each Australian state and territory has its own requirements for adoption. For example, all except Victoria and Tasmania require a child over 12 years old to give their consent to be adopted by someone.

States and territories also specify different minimum ages for a person before they can become an adoptive parent. In New South Wales, the minimum age is 21 and in Western Australia, 18. There are also different requirements for how much older than their child an adopted parent needs to be. 

For more information about legal requirements in your state or territory, contact the relevant government agency from the list below.

Adopting a child from overseas

For intercountry adoption, you must first be approved to adopt by your state or territory government. Then, your application will be sent to your nominated overseas country for their approval. If approved by them and a child is found for you, you will be sent a placement proposal. If you accept it, you’ll need to go to the overseas country to collect your child and formally adopt them there.

It can often be a lengthy process for people wanting to adopt from overseas. The number of children available for Australian families to adopt is declining because it may be easier to place the children in their own countries.

Refer to the Intercountry Adoption Australia website for more information on intercountry adoption programs and the possible waiting times.

Can I adopt if I am single or in a same-sex marriage?

All states and territories except Victoria allow single people to adopt a child. However, priority is generally given to couples so it’s rare for a single person to adopt. Victoria is currently reviewing this law.

All states and territories in Australia, except the Northern Territory, permit same-sex couples to adopt a child. Northern Territory is also currently reviewing this law so it may become legal there soon.

How common is adoption?

Adoption is not very common. In 2016–17, 315 adoptions of children were finalised in Australia. Sixty-nine of them were children adopted from overseas and 246 were children from Australia.

How long does adoption take?

There is no information currently available about how long it takes for local adoptions to be processsed.

In 2016-17, the average length of time for an intercountry adoption, from when an adoptive parent was approved by an Australian state or territory to when the child was placed, was 2 years and 9 months. However, it can also be a long and complicated process to obtain approval in Australia. Each state and territory is different.

To find out more about adoption in your state or territory, contact the following government agencies:

Last reviewed: February 2018

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