Nathan Sparling, a 27 year old charity worker from Edinburgh has brought the spectre of adult adoption to the attention of the media. He is campaigning for the law on adoption to be changed to allow individuals over the age of 18 to be adopted.
Nathan, who had never met his biological father, had been brought up by his mother and his step-father. In his late teens Nathan looked into the adoption process and was disappointed to find out he was too old to be adopted. Only a child under the age of 18 may be adopted in Scotland.
Like many children in step-families, Nathan may have strong emotional reasons for wishing to be adopted. Step-parents can play a vital role in a child’s life and they often take the place of an absent parent without having the legal recognition which the parent-child relationship brings. As the number of blended families increases, it is arguable that legislation should reflect social change and put in place a mechanism to give individuals over the age of 18 and their step-parents all of the rights and responsibilities which parents and their children enjoy.
Unlike biological children, step-children do not automatically have any right to inherit a step-parent’s estate. This can be circumvented by the step-parent making a will but many step-families may not consider putting this protection in place and they may not be aware that marriage to the child’s biological parent does not confer the right to inherit upon step-children. And of course wills can always be changed and so that protection is not full proof.
But there may be an inherent contradiction in this campaign. Adoption is a legal relationship created by the order of a court and its purpose is to create a new parent – child relationship with the legal rights and responsibilities which go with it. And of course these rights and responsibilities largely fly off when the child reaches adulthood. When making an order for adoption there must be a clear advantage to the child in formalising the relationship and any order must be in the child’s best interests. And critically, adoption extinguishes the legal relationship between the child and their biological parent and courts are rightly reluctant to break this legal bond unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Whilst it is understandable that Nathan and other adults like him may have significant emotional reasons for wishing to be adopted, adoption is not apt to create a parental relationship between adults. The Scottish Government has indicated it will consider the proposals but it is not clear there is an appetite for the court to regulate adult relationships when there is no pressing need for them to do so. The campaign will be monitored with interest.