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Who can adopt

Adoption by individuals or couples


An individual may adopt, either alone or with the consent of their partner. If an individual application is successful, the person applying becomes the parent. Their consenting partner will not be a parent.


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

Married couples can jointly adopt a child, whether the couple is heterosexual or same-sex. The Adoption Act says that “two spouses” can adopt jointly, and since the legalisation of same-sex marriages in August 2013, this has also included same-sex married couples.

De facto couples are also allowed to adopt jointly. 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. However, it seems that a civil union couple – even a heterosexual one – would not be able to adopt jointly.

In late 2015, a Family Court decision extended the scope of the “two spouses” wording further to include 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 necessarily bound to follow this latest decision, but it’s still a significant legal milestone for this area.

Adoption by non-family

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

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

A sole male applicant will not be able to adopt a female child unless the Family Court is satisfied that the applicant is the child’s father or that there are special circumstances.

Adoption by family

The Adoption Act specifically provides for adoption by:

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

By one parent alone

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

If you are the parent of the child, you can adopt that child, regardless of your age or the age difference between you and the child.

Note: Applications by a parent alone are now extremely rare. This category was mainly established to recognise children born outside of marriage.

By a parent and step-parent together

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

A natural parent and their spouse (that is, a 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 in order to adopt.

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

Next Section | Consent to adoption
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