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Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2022

Chapter 4 - Status of Adopted Children

Chapter 4 provides for the status of adopted children, thereby making clear how they are to be treated in law.

Section 65: Meaning of adoption in Chapter 4

Section 65 sets out the meaning of "adoption" in Chapter 4. For the purpose of this Chapter, adoption means adoption by adoption orders made in Northern Ireland, England, Wales or Scotland, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and countries which have implemented the Hague Convention, overseas adoptions or an adoption recognised by the law of Northern Ireland and effected under the law of any other country. References to adoption in this Chapter are to adoptions effected after the date on which Chapter 4 comes into operation. References in other enactments to an adopted person within the meaning of Chapter 4 include a reference to an adopted child within the meaning of Part 5 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987.

Section 66: Status conferred by adoption

Section 66 provides for the determination of the legal status of an adopted person. Subsection (1) provides that the adopted person is to be treated in law as if born as the child of the adopter or adopters. Subsection (2) provides that an adopted person is the legitimate child of the adopters or adopter and, if adopted by a couple, or a partner of his parent, they are to be treated as if they had been born as the child of the relationship of that couple.

Subsection (3)(a) provides that in an adoption by the partner of a parent the adopted person is only to be treated in law as the child of the adopter and the partner of the adopter. In any other circumstances subsection (3)(b) provides that an adopted person is to be treated only in law as the child of the adopter or adopters (subject to subsection (4)). Subsection (4) provides that where the adopter is both a sole adopter and the natural parent, subsection (3)(b) is to have no effect with respect to anything dependant on the relationship to that parent, for example entitlement to property. A single parent may, for example, adopt their own child so that the child may cease to be illegitimate (although this now happens rarely).

Subsection (5) provides that this section has effect from the date of an adoption order being made in respect of an individual. Subsection (6) confirms that, subject to the other provisions of Chapter 4 and Schedule 4, this section applies for the interpretation of statutory provisions or instruments passed both before and after a person's adoption and has effect as respects events taking place on or after the adoption. Subsection (7) provides that this section does not apply to a statutory provision or other instrument passed or made before 1st October 1989 in so far as it contains a disposition of property; and does not apply to any public general Act in its application to any disposition of property in a statutory provision or other instrument passed or made before 1st October 1989.

The provisions in this section are intended only to clarify how an adopted child should be treated in law. They do not touch on the biological or emotional ties of an adopted child, nor are they intended to.

Section 67: Adoptive relatives

Subsections (1) and (2) enable a relationship that exists as a consequence of section 66 to be described in law as an adoptive relationship. An adopter may be referred to as an adoptive parent or as an adoptive father or an adoptive mother depending on the circumstances of the case and any other relative of any degree under an adoptive relationship may be referred to as an adoptive relative of that degree. However, it does not prevent any term not qualified by the word "adoptive" from being treated as including an adoptive relative.

Subsection (3) provides that where there is a reference to the adoptive mother and father of a child, if the child has been adopted by two persons of the same sex who are a couple, or by a partner of the child’s parent, where the couple are of the same sex, the reference is to be read as a reference to the child's adoptive parents.

Section 68: Rules of interpretation for instruments concerning property

Section 68 sets out the rules of interpretation for any instrument concerning the disposition of property. These rules are subject to any contrary indication and to Schedule 4 to the Act.

Subsection (2) applies where a disposition depends on the date of birth of a child or children of an adoptive parent(s). For the purposes of the disposition, the adopted person is to be treated as having been born on the date of the adoption order. Where two or more people have been adopted on the same date they are to be treated as if they had both been born on that date but in the order of their actual births. Subsection (3) gives examples of phrases in wills on which subsection (2) can operate.

Subsection (4) allows an adopted person to retain certain interests vested in him before his adoption. Subsection (5) provides that, where it is necessary to determine for the purposes of a disposition of property whether a woman can have a child, it is to be presumed that when she has attained 55 years of age she will not adopt a person after the execution of the instrument and, if she does, that person will not be treated as her child or, if she does so as one of a couple, as the child of the other one of the couple for the purposes of that instrument. Subsection (7) provides that section 68 does not apply to a statutory provision or other instrument passed or made before 1st October 1989.

Section 69: Dispositions depending on date of birth

Subsection (1) provides that where a child is born illegitimate and adopted by one of his natural parents as the sole adoptive parent, the date of his birth rather than the date of his adoption is taken into account in respect of entitlement to property. Subsection (2) sets out an example of when this might apply.

Section 70: Property devolving with peerages etc.

Section 70 provides that adoption does not affect the descent of any peerage or dignity or title of honour or the devolution of any property devolving with such titles. Thus, unless there is a contrary intention expressed in the instrument, an adopted person cannot inherit such a title or any associated property from his adoptive parents. Likewise, the natural child of a Peer who is adopted will inherit a peerage, dignity or title of honour and any property devolving with such titles from his birth parents. Subsection (3) provides that exceptions may apply where a contrary intention is expressed in the instrument.

Section 71: Protection of trustees and personal representatives

Section 71 provides for the protection of trustees or personal representatives who convey or distribute property in ignorance of the making or revocation of an adoption order.

Section 72: Meaning of disposition

Section 72 defines the terms "disposition" and "power of appointment" for the purposes of Chapter 4. Subsection (3) confirms that the provisions of this Chapter apply equally to an oral disposition as to a written one. For the purposes of Chapter 4, subsection (4) provides that the date of death of the testator is the date a will or codicil is treated as being made and subsection (5) provides that the provisions of the law of intestate succession are to be treated as if they are contained in an instrument that the deceased executed (while of full capacity) immediately before his death.

Section 73: Miscellaneous

Section 73 provides that the general principle of section 66 (that an adopted person is to be treated as if he or she had been born as the child of the adopter or adopters) is not to apply for the purposes of Articles 68 and 69 of the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 (sex with an adult relative), marriages or civil partnerships within prohibited degrees of relationship or to incest and, for these purposes, an adopted person remains part of his natural family. The only exception is that an adopted person cannot marry or form a civil partnership with their adoptive parent, as this falls within the prohibited degrees of relationship in Article 18 of the Family Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 or Schedule 12 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Otherwise there are no restrictions on marriage or civil partnership within an adoptive family.

Subsection (3) lists other enactments which deal with questions of nationality and immigration, and to which the general principle of section 66 is also not to apply.

Section 74: Pensions

Section 74 provides that section 66(3), (the rule that an adopted child is to be treated only as the child of the adopter(s) or, in the case of an adoption by a partner of a parent, only as the child of the adopter and the natural parent to whom he is a partner), does not affect an adopted person's entitlement to a pension payable to or for his benefit which is in payment at the time of his adoption.

Section 75: Insurance

Section 75 provides that any rights and liabilities under any insurance policy that a natural parent has effected for the payment on the death of the child for funeral expenses are transferred by virtue of the adoption of that child to the adoptive parents. The adopters are to be treated as if they took out the policy themselves. Subsection (2) makes clear that references in subsection (1) to adoptive parents are to be read, in the case of an adoption by a partner or a parent, as referring to the adopter and the adopter’s partner.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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