Since the Adoption and Children Act came into force in 2005, gay and lesbian single persons as well as same-sex couples have a right to adopt a child in the UK.
Significant then are figures published by the Department for Education which show that the number of same-sex couples adopting in England doubled over a four year period, rising from 3% in 2009 to 6% in 2013.
Like straight parents, many LGBT people choose to follow tradition and ask family members or close friends to become God-parents, but the role and duties of a God-parent are frequently confused with those of Guardians. Here Lee Trubshaw, Partner at solicitors Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP, touches on some of the key differences and highlights points LGBT people should consider when choosing the best people to fulfil two very different roles
My partner and I are considering who to ask to be God-parents to our adopted son but are unsure whether they would have a legal responsibility towards him in the event of our deaths?
The first thing to be aware of is that a God-parent is not a legal appointment, so should anything happen to you both before your son reaches the age of 18 his God-parents do not automatically become responsible for him. The tradition of selecting a God-parent was to ensure a child’s religious education although in the present day it tends to mean that the family members or friends fulfilling the role will take an interest in the child’s development and overall wellbeing.
Is a God-parent the same as a Guardian?
A person can be both a God-parent and a Guardian provided that the parent(s) have appointed them as a legal Guardian in the event of both their deaths.
Why should we appoint Guardians for our adopted young family?
Guardians are usually appointed in conjunction with making a Will. However, many LGBT people with children under the age of 18 perceive that they are too young to need a Will but do not realise that if they both die, the Courts will determine where the children will live. This means that even if your children have God-parents they have no legal rights. It is also important to take into consideration that some people, including possibly your own family members, may believe that gay people should not be allowed to adopt. So to prevent fighting over the Guardianship of your children in the event of both your deaths it is best to formally make your wishes clear in your Will as the Courts will honour the appointment of a Guardian, even if the Guardian is not related by blood.
What is a Guardian’s role?
Lee: A legal Guardian assumes all legal rights and obligations for a child if there is no surviving parent with parental responsibility. The Guardian is responsible for looking after a child in the same way that its parents would – for example ensuring that it is fed, clothed, goes to school, taught the difference between right and wrong – as well as making decisions that directly affect the child such as how it is schooled. When considering who to appoint it is important to assess whether your Guardian(s) can offer a stable environment; how you rate their values and parenting skills; whether they are willing to take on long term responsibility for caring for your children and the quality of the relationship with your children.
How many Guardians should we appoint?
Typically people choose to appoint two Guardians – who are often civil partnered or married or in a long-term stable relationship – although you may appoint just one.
My partner passed away suddenly leaving two young children. They have no contact with their natural father so can I apply to become their Guardian?
Lee: If you seek to become a legal Guardian you must first be assessed by Social Services who submit their findings to the Family Proceedings Court. The Family Proceedings Court deals with the welfare of children so a person becoming a legal Guardian will be asked to appear to clarify how they will uphold and execute the parental responsibilities initially charged to a parent. Both bodies need to be certain that you, as the proposed Guardian, are able to take on the responsibilities involved and that the children are also happy with you as their Guardian.
For advice on civil partnerships, same sex marriage, family and other legal matters contact Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP on 01543 421840 for a consultation or email firstname.lastname@example.org