Adopting a Child in Singapore: What You Need to Know
What is Adoption?
The decision to adopt a child is a significant one, with many things to consider before embarking on the process. At the end of the day, the aim is to give the child a good home, and we hope this article will help make things easier for you if you are looking to adopt a child in Singapore.
For starters, adoption is a legal process that gives adoptive parents parental rights over a child. Once an adoption is successful, the biological parents no longer have any legal ties to the child. The adoptive parents then take on all parental rights, duties, obligations and liabilities relating to the child’s care and education.
Singapore’s adoption laws are primarily found in the Adoption of Children Act (ACA), with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) overseeing the adoption of children in Singapore. Among other things, MSF supervises the voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) that assess an adopter’s suitability. In addition, the Director-General of Social Welfare from MSF functions as the child’s Guardian-in-Adoption (GIA) or temporary guardian in adoption proceedings. More information about the GIA can be found below.
This article will discuss:
What are the Eligibility Requirements for Adoption?
Here are the requirements you must satisfy to adopt a child in Singapore:
- For couples: For couples wishing to adopt a child, only a man and woman married to each other in Singapore may do so. If the marriage had taken place in another country, it needs to be recognised as valid under the laws of both that country and Singapore.
- For singles: Single persons are eligible to adopt as sole applicants.
- Citizenship requirements: For joint applications made by married couples, at least one applicant must be a Singapore citizen or both applicants must be Permanent Residents (PRs). Single persons wishing to adopt must be either a Singapore citizen or a PR. In addition, applicants need to be habitually resident in Singapore, which is assessed by factors such as how long they have been living in Singapore and where they work.
- Age requirements: Applicants must generally be at least 25 years old and at least 21 years older than the child they wish to adopt. This is unless special circumstances apply, such as if an applicant and a child are biologically related within parameters set by the court.
- Pre-adoption application requirements: Applicants must go for pre-adoption and disclosure briefings conducted by MSF-approved adoption agencies. These briefings educate applicants on the adoption process and how to care for an adopted child, as well as how to disclose a child’s adoptive status to him/her. Applicants are also required to undergo an Adoption Suitability Assessment (ASA). The ASA is a home study assessment conducted by MSF-authorised adoption agencies. Factors considered in this assessment include applicants’ financial stability and ability to interact with the child, among other indicators. If you would like to adopt a related child (such as a step-child), you may qualify for a simpler ASA. Note that you must not provide false or misleading information to authorities (such as the GIA or adoption agencies) — otherwise, you could face a fine of up to $5,000, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.
Here are some examples of situations in which adoption is not permitted:
- A sole applicant who is male cannot adopt a female child (unless special circumstances apply);
- Homosexual couples cannot submit a joint application to adopt a child since same-sex partners are currently unable to marry in Singapore;
- A person who has committed a serious offence, such as a sexual, violent or drug-related offence, is not eligible to adopt. However, if exceptional circumstances exist, such as if the offence had been committed when the applicant was a minor and the applicant has since reformed, they may still be eligible to adopt. Nevertheless, an adoption order will be granted only if the court is satisfied that doing so will not pose a risk of harm to the child.
Other considerations include the following:
- The child’s welfare: The court must be satisfied that adoption will promote the welfare of the child. In coming to this conclusion, the court takes into consideration the child’s wishes with regard to his/her age and level of maturity.
- Consent: Before the court can grant an adoption order, consent from all relevant persons has to be obtained. This is especially so for the child’s birth parents, who must understand that an adoption order will permanently deprive them of their parental rights over the child. However, the court may choose to do away with the need for consent from the birth parents in certain circumstances, including situations in which:
- The birth parents have intentionally caused grievous hurt to the child, ill-treated the child or failed to properly care for the child;
- The birth parents are drug addicts and have been convicted of drug offences at least twice, which render them incapable of caring for the child;
- The birth parents are currently imprisoned for a period of time that renders them incapable of caring for the child;
- The birth parents are suffering from a physical or mental incapacity that renders them unfit to care for the child.
- Provision of support services: The court may require applicants or any other relevant persons to undergo mediation, counselling, psychotherapy or other such programmes at any time during the adoption proceedings. This is to ensure that any issues arising from the adoption application are amicably settled (such as in the case of a contested adoption application), the involved parties have resolved any existing relationship problems between them, and the well-being and safety of the child are made certain.
Who Can be Adopted?
Only children below the age of 21 may be adopted. In addition, the child must never have been married.
The child must be a Singapore citizen, PR or Dependant’s Pass Holder. The child must also be a Singapore resident. The child is not considered a Singapore resident if:
- The child merely holds a visit pass, a student’s pass or a special pass; or
- The Immigration Act prohibits the child’s presence in Singapore
There are also additional things to take note of when adopting foreign children and children from China:
|Adopting a foreign child (except from China)||Adopting a child from China|
|If you wish to adopt a foreign child (excluding a child from China), you would need to apply for a Dependent’s Pass (DP) through MSF. The DP allows a foreign child to enter and remain in Singapore until the adoption is finalised.||To successfully adopt a child from China, you must satisfy requirements set out by both Singapore and China. Hence, the adoption process will take longer compared to adopting a child who is a Singapore citizen/PR. The eligibility requirements set out by China can be found here.
The adoption must first be legalised in China before the child can be brought into Singapore, and you are required to be present in China for the legalisation.
You must make applications to adopt a child from China either through TOUCH Community Services Ltd or Fei Yue Community Services, both of which are agencies accredited by MSF and the Ministry of Civil Affairs of China.
How Can I Find a Child to Adopt?
There are a few ways to find a child to adopt. You may find a child through your own contacts via relatives, friends or other people you know. Alternatively, if you are looking for a child under state care, you may do so through MSF by submitting a request.
You may also find a child through authorised adoption agencies.
What is the Child Adoption Process in Singapore?
After you have identified a child to adopt, you will have to obtain the notarised consent of the child’s biological parents (or other relevant persons if the child’s parents are not available). You will then need to obtain the child’s birth certificate (and passport if the child is a PR) and ensure that the documentation is genuine.
As part of the adoption process, you may incur costs pertaining to the transfer of the child. Such costs include a token of appreciation to the biological parents or payment to an adoption agency. If you have incurred such costs, you will need to provide a breakdown of the total amount incurred, accompanied by proof of original receipts.
Here is a general outline of what the adoption process looks like after you have attended the mandatory briefings described above, obtained a favourable ASA and identified a child to adopt:
- Submit an application for an adoption order to the Family Court.
- Obtain consent from MSF’s Director-General of Social Welfare to act as the child’s GIA and submit this consent to the Family Court. The main role of the GIA is to protect the child’s interests. The GIA investigates the circumstances surrounding the adoption application and ensures that the legal requirements for adoption are met. The GIA also evaluates the potential adopter’s suitability to adopt the child and makes a recommendation to the court accordingly (though the court is not required to follow the GIA’s recommendation).
- Attend interviews conducted by a Child Welfare Officer (CWO) appointed by the GIA for them to learn more about your family’s status and the child’s situation. The CWO may also visit your home. After the CWO has completed the investigation, MSF will prepare an affidavit, which you can then submit to the Family Court.
- Apply for a hearing date, during which the court will decide the outcome of your adoption application.
- Attend the court hearing. Either you or your lawyer must be present during the hearing.
- If the adoption is successful, the child will be issued a new birth certificate from the Registry of Births & Deaths, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). If the adoption is not successful, you will need to return the child to his/her own family, the adoption agency or MSF as relevant.
For more detailed information on the respective steps (depending on where the child is from), you can visit these pages on the MSF website:
- Adopting a Singapore citizen or PR child
- Adopting a foreign child (excluding children from China)
- Adopting a child from China
The adoption process can take between 5 and 7 months, or even longer if you are adopting a foreign child.
What are the Potential Outcomes You Can Expect?
Here are some of the potential outcomes of a child adoption application and their implications:
- Unconditional adoption order: The adoption is successful without any further conditions that need to be met. You become the legal parent of the child, and legal ties between the child and his/her birth parents are severed. This is the most favourable outcome. Once the adoption is successful, you may change the name of your child if you wish by executing a deed poll.
- Conditional adoption order: The court grants the adoption order but with the imposition of certain conditions.
- Interim order: This is when the court delays the granting of an adoption order, giving you temporary custody of the child for a maximum duration of 2 years. This period effectively serves as a probationary period. The court may impose certain requirements regarding the child’s maintenance, education and welfare as it sees fit. During this period, the GIA acts as the child’s legal guardian.
- Proceedings adjourned: The court places adoption proceedings on hold temporarily to obtain more information about the application.
- Rejection of adoption application: Your adoption application is rejected by the court, perhaps due to a failure to satisfy certain requirements. You will have to return the child to his/her family, the adoption agency or MSF (as relevant) at your own cost, and MSF will advise you on the relevant arrangements for the child where necessary. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome, you may appeal against the court’s decision. More information on appeals can be found here.
Adoption can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing process as you seek to welcome a child into your home. Since adoption involves fulfilling many legal requirements, it might be a good idea to consult a family lawyer or a lawyer specialising in adoption matters if you are looking to adopt a child in Singapore.
A lawyer will be able to provide clarity on the laws regarding adoption, eligibility criteria, required processes and other crucial information. Your lawyer can also assist in submitting the relevant applications and documents (such as your adoption application and the affidavit containing the CWO’s findings), and can also represent you during the adoption hearing as needed.
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