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Step-parents often have a close relationship with their step-children and wish to have the formal legal relationship to permit them to make decisions regarding the children’s upbringing. One way to do this would be to appoint the step-parent as a guardian of the child.

Traditionally, given the absence of a biological link, step-parents could not apply to be appointed as guardians of their step-children. In order to achieve a legal relationship with the child, the step-parent, having married the child’s biological parent, had to formally adopt the child jointly with their spouse; the child’s biological parent. In this event, all legal rights of the other biological parent were extinguished. Thus, the other biological parent with guardianship status can veto the adoption process.

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 (effective since 18 January 2016) permits a child to have more than 2 guardians where such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child. Step-parents, for example, can now apply for guardianship status in respect of the child provided they fulfil the following criteria:

(a) The applicant is married to or in a civil partnership with the biological parent, and

(b) The applicant has shared parental responsibility for the child’s day-to-day care for a period of more than 2 years;

(c) The making of the order is the best interests of the child.

Once appointed guardian, the step-parent acts as guardian alongside both the biological mother and father.

Step-Parent Adoption

The Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 permits the step-parent to apply to adopt their partner’s child without their partner (the child’s biological parent) also having to apply in order to jointly adopt the child as a couple. Their partner can consent to the adoption while keeping their parental rights and responsibilities – ultimately sharing these with the step-parent once the adoption order is made.

Who can apply? 

  • Spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant of the biological parent of the child - where the child has lived with the biological parent and partner for at least 2 years.

Impact of step-parent adoption

  • The step-parent is granted full parental rights and responsibilities.
  • The rights and responsibilities of the other biological parent (who is not the applicant’s partner/spouse) are removed.
  • The child will have the same rights as any child born to marital or non-marital parents, including succession rights.

Further Information

  • Citizens Information provides an overview of the law and processes that apply in respect of step-parent adoption in Ireland.
  • Treoir provides useful information on step-parent adoption, including how to apply.
  • The Adoption Authority of Ireland outlines the different types of adoption available in Ireland today, including step-parent adoption and extended family adoption.


Organisation Telephone Email Website Address

Adoption Authority of Ireland

(01) 230 9300 Adoption Authority of Ireland, Shelbourne House, Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

Child and Family Agency - Tusla

(01) 635 2854 Child and Family Agency, Block D, Park Gate Business Centre, Parkgate Street, Dublin

Citizens Information

0761 07 4000 260 drop-in locations nationwide. Find your local centre here.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF