Who can adopt

Adoption by individuals or couples


An individual can adopt someone on their own. If they want to adopt and have a partner, their partner has to agree. If a person applies to adopt alone and the application is successful, the person applying becomes the parent. Their partner won’t be a parent.


Adoption Act 1955, s 3; Cases: [2010] NZFLR 629 (HC) – [2015] NZFC 9404

Married couples can adopt a child together, whether the couple is heterosexual or same-sex.

De facto couples are also allowed to adopt together. In 2010, the High Court ruled that “two spouses” in the Adoption Act includes a heterosexual de facto couple in a stable and committed relationship.

In 2015, the Family Court decided that “two spouses” also included a same-sex de facto couple. Until there’s a ruling on this specific issue from the High Court, other Family Court Judges aren’t bound to follow this decision, but it’s still an important legal milestone for this area.

The law regarding adoption by a couple in a civil union is complex and it is recommended you get independent legal advice if you are in a civil union relationship and want to adopt.

Adoption by family

The Adoption Act 1995 specifically covers adoption by:

  • a natural (birth) parent alone
  • a natural (birth) parent and a step-parent (the spouse of a natural parent) together
  • a grandparent
  • a brother or sister, or
  • an uncle or aunt.

By a parent and step-parent together

Adoption Act 1955, ss 3(3), 4(1)(c)

A natural (birth) parent and their spouse (child’s step-parent) can adopt a child jointly. No age restrictions apply for this sort of adoption.

Adoption by other relatives

Adoption Act 1955, s 2 “relative”, s 4(1)(b), 4(2)

A child’s grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt can adopt the child. The relative must be at least 20 years old to adopt.

A male relative will not be able to adopt a female relative by himself alone unless there are special circumstances.

Adoption outside of the family

Adoption Act 1955, s 4(1)(a), (2)

The person applying to adopt must be at least 25 years old and must be at least 20 years older than the child, except in special cases.

A sole male applicant won’t be able to adopt a female child unless the person applying is the child’s father or there are special circumstances.


Next Section | Consent to adoption

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Parents, guardians and caregivers

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children

Phone: 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459)

This web page has information about the adoption process.

Family Court

The Family Court website includes information on the topics in this chapter.

Family Court fee waiver forms

Department of Internal Affairs

This DIA webpage has information on how to obtain original birth certificates for adopted children.

Parents can now register their baby’s birth online at:

“What happens to your children when you part?” (pamphlet)
Phone: (04) 472 7837

This New Zealand Law Society pamphlet covers guardianship, care of and contact with children, how disputes are resolved, and other child-focused issues. Access the pamphlet online or order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society.

Inland Revenue

Phone: 0800 221 221

Inland Revenue’s Child Support webpage has a wide range of forms and guides for parents and caregivers.

Alternative dispute resolution – Resolution Institute is a community of mediators, arbitrators, adjudicators, restorative justice practitioners and other DR professionals. – AMINZ (Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand).

There are many kinds of “alternative dispute resolution” that, depending on your personal situation, may be cheaper and more successful than going to the Family Court. These include counselling, mediation and negotiation. You can find out more at the above websites

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services

The ANZASCS website has information about organisations that are approved as providers of supervised contact services.

“Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options before and after pregnancy” booklet

This booklet contains practical answers to questions about pregnancy and the law, and includes information on sexual health and consent, options after a positive pregnancy test, healthcare, education, housing and more.

Order hard copies from:
Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley
Phone: (04) 499 2928

Email: or visit to buy a copy or access free online.

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

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