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Un-adoption? Is that possible?

An adoption order is a life-changing thing. It severs a child’s legal ties with their birth family, and instead makes them legally the child of the adoptive parents, with all rights and responsibilities transferred to the new family. Due to the draconian nature of cutting ties with the biological family, orders are only made by a court after careful scrutiny of the child’s best interests – their welfare is the court’s paramount concern, and an order for adoption will only be made when nothing else will do to meet the child’s needs.

Once made, an adoption order cannot be undone except in an extremely limited set of circumstances. It is possible to appeal an order before it is put into practice, but that is different to revoking an order that has been implemented. By way of illustrating just how hard it is to revoke an order (and thus reinstate the child’s connection with their biological family), two cases demonstrate the court’s unwillingness to revoke orders even in what seem like deeply unfair circumstances.

In the first case, a man in his thirties sought to revoke an adoption order made when he was a baby in 1959. His mother was a Roman Catholic and his father a Kuwaiti Muslim. They had a brief relationship but due to the societal views at the time his mother put him forward for adoption. He was adopted by a Jewish couple (who believed his biological father was Jewish) and raised as an Orthodox Jew. When he learned about his birth parents he sought to overturn the order. He wanted to work in the Middle East but could not settle in Arab states as he was officially Jewish, and was unwelcome in Israel due to his Arab heritage. His case was refused.

The second more recent case concerned three children from the same family who had been adopted following physical injuries which one of the children had suffered. Following the child’s admission to hospital with fractures, which were thought at the time to have been non-accidental, the local authority commenced proceedings to take all three of the children into care, and they were subsequently adopted against the wishes of their parents, with two in one adoptive home and the third in another. Following the birth of a fourth child to the couple and their application to admit fresh evidence in relation to the injuries, it was held that scurvy or iron deficiency caused by a lack of vitamin C in soya-based formula milk was the likely cause of the fractures, not deliberate injury. The parents (quite understandably) then applied to have the care orders and adoption orders in relation to their three eldest children set aside. They wanted their children back. The court refused on public policy grounds, saying if prospective adopters thought that natural parents could, even in limited circumstances, secure the return of a child after an adoption order had been made, this could have a dramatic effect on the number of people putting themselves forward as prospective adopters. It had also been 5 years since the children were removed from their parents and they were settled in their new families.

Against this background, a rather surprising case has just been reported where a 14 year old girl has succeeded in getting an adoption order revoked. The girl was adopted at the age of 4 by Mr and Mrs K. Two years later they sent her to live with their extended family members in Ghana. She stated in her evidence that she was abused by the family there. She returned to the UK in 2014 and was reunited with her birth mother, with whom she was now living. It seems that her adoptive parents had largely washed their hands of her, and she remained frightened of them. They took no part in the proceedings but were aware of their adoptive daughter’s application. She asked the court to revoke the adoption order, thus reinstating her legal ties to her birth family, and to allow her to change her surname to match her mother’s. In granting the order, the judge held the case to be highly exceptional, and the arguments in favour of revocation outweighed the public policy considerations of upholding adoption. The troubled and abusive childhood, the girl’s competence and motivation to achieve her ambition to be reunited with her birth family, and her concerns about her legal status all meant that her welfare would be best served by revoking the order made a decade ago.

These are really tough and emotive cases, and whilst the recent case is undoubtedly the best outcome for the girl concerned, it is not surprising that the other cases mentioned above evoke very mixed feelings. Would you have decided them differently?

As ever, if we can help with any aspect of family law, please call to book an appointment on 01223 443333.