Adopting children from abroad can complete families and be of great benefit to all concerned. However, as a High Court case showed, it is fraught with legal pitfalls and should not be attempted without first taking specialist legal advice.
The case concerned a British citizen who adopted a child in Iran under Iranian law. The child had thrived in the adoptive placement. The parent launched proceedings in London, seeking recognition of the adoption in this country. The Home Office opposed the application on the basis that the criteria for recognition specified in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 had not been met.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that Iran has not ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoptions. It is also not one of the countries where adoption is recognised by operation of the Adoption (Recognition of Overseas Adoptions) Order 2013.
The parent was domiciled in Iran at the time of the adoption and it was not disputed that the child had been legally adopted in accordance with the requirements of Iranian law. However, the Home Office argued that adoption in Iran does not have the same essential characteristics as adoption in England and that recognition should, for that reason alone, be refused.
The effect of an English adoption is to sever the legal relationship between the child and his or her biological parents. Section 67 of the Act provides that, if an adoption order is made, the child will be treated as if born to the adopter(s). Adoption orders made in this country can only be revoked in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances and such revocations are extremely rare.
The Court noted that those principles differ starkly from the position under Iranian law, where an adoption order does not extinguish the legal relationship between a child and his or her biological father. The threshold for revocation of Iranian adoption orders is also set at a much less demanding level.
The Iranian adoption had provided the child with much-needed security and stability. However, in refusing to grant recognition, the Court observed that the case turned not on the child's welfare but on the interpretation of the legal principles through which English law recognises foreign adoptions.
The Court observed that an application for an English adoption order in respect of the child could be made under Section 49(3) of the Act if it could be shown that the child had been habitually resident in this country for 12 months. Any interference with the human rights of the child and the parent arising from the refusal to recognise the Iranian adoption was, in the circumstances, justified.