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 and de facto couples can adopt a child together.

If you’re in a civil union, the law about adoption is complex and it’s recommended you get independent legal advice if you want to adopt.

Note: Married couples can apply to adopt. The Adoption Act was expressly amended to include married couples of any gender. In 2015, the Family Court decided that if “two spouses” included heterosexual de facto couples, this should also include same-sex de facto couples. But, this isn’t a binding decision – technically another Family Court judge could still come to a different conclusion and refuse an application from a de facto couple who aren’t heterosexual. However, this is unlikely given that adoptions have been granted for couples of all genders in the subsequent years.

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 you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online:

Access the free “Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options before and after pregnancy” booklet, here. 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.
Email for a hard copy:
Phone: Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley – 04 499 2928

Family Court

The Family Court website covers many topics discussed in this chapter, including how the family court works, care of children, adoption and paternity.


New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on what happens with children when parents separate.


Inland Revenue

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

Phone: 0800 221 221

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services (ANZASCS)

The ANZASCS website has information about supervised contact and lists contact details for approved providers of supervised contact services.


Alternative Dispute Resolution

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. The following list is not exhaustive:

Resolution Institute:
Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand Inc (AMINZ):
Family Works:

Oranga Tamariki/Ministry for Children

Oranga Tamariki’s website has information about the adoption process.

Phone: 0508 326 459

Department of Internal Affairs

The DIA website has information on how to obtain original birth certificates for adopted children.


Registering your child’s birth

The Smartstart website allows you to register your baby’s birth online.


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