The adoption of children in Singapore is governed by the Adoption of Children Act 1939 and administered by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Adopting a child is a legal process where the legal rights and responsibilities of the biological parents are transferred to the adoptive parents. The legal effect is that the child now enters into a new parent-child relationship, and the adoptive parents now have all the legal parental responsibilities that the biological parents would have had.
Legally, adoption is not a simple process, and the entire procedure can only be done through the court.
Who is eligible to adopt a child and which children are eligible for adoption?
Under sections 3 and 4 of the Adoption of Children Act, to be eligible for adoption the child,
- Must be under the age of 21 years old, and
- Cannot have been married before – even if the marriage has ended due to death, divorce, or annulment; no exception will be made.
- The child must be a citizen or a permanent resident of Singapore or be allowed to enter Singapore on a Dependent’s Pass.
- Must be at least 25 years of age to adopt a child.
- Where two people apply, both must be at least 25 years old.
- For joint applicants, the parties must be married to each other.
- If you are married and want to adopt alone, you need the consent of your spouse.
- There must be at least a 21-year age difference between the applicant seeking to adopt the child and the child.
- The applicant must be a Singapore resident, i.e. Citizen, Permanent Resident, holder of an Employment pass or a Dependant’s Pass, or any other pass that the Family Court will deem to give resident status.
- Generally, a single male is not allowed to adopt a girl.
- The age gap between the adoptive parent and the child should not be more than 50 years.
Under section 4(2) of the Act, an exception can be made where the child is a blood relative of the applicant, or where the court finds exceptional circumstances to allow the adoption.
Duration of the adoption process
Adoptive parents are often anxious to know how long it takes to finalise the adoption. The process varies from case to case and depends on the complexity and the circumstances. An adoption typically takes between 6-9 months from when the Guardian-in-Adoption is appointed, but factors, such as whether the child is a citizen, or a foreign child can make a significant difference.
Adopting a child from a foreign country involves a few more steps. All the adoption requirements of a foreign country must first be fulfilled. The adoptive parents can then apply for a Dependant’s Pass to bring the child into Singapore before the adoption process can begin.
Different countries have different rules regarding foreign adoptions. To adopt a child from The People’s Republic of China, for example, the identification of the child must be made strictly via the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption. The applicants must comply with all the requirements as set out by the PRC, and the adoption must be legalised in China before the child can be brought to Singapore to legalise the adoption in Singapore.
If you wish to adopt any foreign child, you will need to complete a Home Study Report first. The purpose of the Home Study Report is to assess your suitability and readiness to adopt a child. The process usually takes about five weeks. You cannot proceed with the process until the report is completed and you cannot bring the child to Singapore before you obtain a Dependant’s Pass from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
The legal process of adoption
The steps in the adoption process depend on whether the child is a Singapore citizen/permanent resident, or a foreign child.
Attend a Pre-Adoption Briefing
Anyone wishing to adopt a child (foreign or local) has to attend a compulsory Pre-Adoption Briefing conducted by an MSF accredited agency. This must be done before applying for a Home Study Report or identifying a child for adoption. This is the very first step in the adoption process. At this meeting, the adoption process will be explained to the applicants.
Identify a child to adopt
After attending a Pre-Adoption Briefing, you may proceed to identify a child that you wish to adopt. You may either consider children in the MSF Fostering Scheme or identify a child on your own, informally, or through an agency. You might want to adopt a stepchild or a relative.
Home Study Report
If you wish to adopt a child in MSF care, you will be required to obtain a favourable Home Study Report before you are matched with a child from the MSF.
If you are applying to adopt a foreign child, you also need a Home Study Report as a first step in the process. The Home Study Report is valid for two years within which you can identify a child to adopt.
In other cases, the necessary home investigation will be conducted during the court process.
Obtain consent and the child’s identification documents
Before applying to adopt a child, you need the notarised consent of the biological parents.
If the biological parents aren’t available or able to give consent, you must obtain consent from one of the following people:
- The child’s legal guardian
- The person who has actual custody of the child
- The person who is legally liable to support the child
- The parents or guardian of the biological parent, if the biological parent is below the age of 21 years.
By signing the consent form, the parents agree that all rights, duties, obligations, and liabilities to the child will be extinguished once an adoption order is made.
If you cannot obtain notarised consent from any of the relevant people, you can apply to the Family Court to dispense with the consent. The court may dispense with the consent if there are special circumstances to justify dispensing.
You also need to obtain the child’s identification documents and passport (if the child is a permanent resident).
If you have identified a foreign child, you will need to apply for a Dependant’s Pass for the child before you can bring the child to Singapore. To apply for a Descendant’s Pass, you need the notarised consent and the child’s identification documents. The MSF can then issue an in-principle approval for a Dependant’s Pass and an entry visa for the child into Singapore. If necessary, the adoptive parents must then go to the child’s country and comply with any adoption requirements of that country before they can bring the child to Singapore. Upon arrival, the MSF will issue the Dependant’s Pass to the parents.
Approach the Family Court
Once you have all these documents in order, you are ready to approach the Family court and file an Originating Summons for Adoption. You can either approach the court yourself or appoint a lawyer to act on your behalf. It is important to ensure that you submit all the required documents when filing your case. From here on the process is the same for foreign and Singapore-born children.
The Family Court will appoint a Guardian-in-Adoption as the child’s temporary legal guardian.
The role of the GIA is to safeguard the child’s legal interests before the court. The GIA will look at all the circumstances surrounding the adoption and report to the court. The court will only grant the adoption order if the applicants complied with all the legal requirements, and the adoption would be in the best interest of the child.
Interviews by Child Welfare Officers of the MSF
The GIA will conduct home visits and investigations and prepare a report for the court. You need to cooperate, attend interviews, and provide all the required information.
Court Hearing and Outcome
Before the court makes any orders, their primary consideration is the interests and welfare of the child. Can the adoptive parents support the child financially, and will they provide a loving and caring environment for the child to grow up in?
The court will investigate whether the parents or guardians of the child fully understood the consent and the fact that they are renouncing their rights over the child.
The court will also ensure that no money was exchanged for the adoption.
After considering all the evidence, the court may do any of the following:
- Dismiss the application.
- Postpone the proceedings to allow the applicant to present more evidence to the court to strengthen their case.
- Make an interim order where the child is placed in the custody of the applicant for a probationary period. The child will remain under the GIA’s supervision.
- Make a conditional order to allow the adoption but impose certain terms and conditions.
- Grant an unconditional adoption order. The applicant may adopt the child with no conditions.
Registration and citizenship of the adopted child
Once the Adoption Order is granted, a new birth certificate will be issued. Adoption does not automatically give the child Singapore citizenship. You will need to apply to the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority to obtain citizenship for your child.
Statutory declaration and consequences of illegal action in obtaining a child for adoption
All prospective adoptive parents are required to sign a declaration that they acknowledge and understand that if they are convicted of any offence in obtaining possession of the child for adoption in Singapore, the adoption order can be set aside and that they may be liable for prosecution.
They also need to declare that the natural parents gave up the child for adoption of their own free will.
Take note that it is the responsibility of the adoptive parents to ensure that the child was not trafficked or brought to Singapore illegally for adoption.
Costs of adoption
Section 11 of the Adoption of Children Act makes it illegal to make or receive any adoption payment unless sanctioned by the court.
The court may sanction the payment of medical fees, hospital bills, food and lodging for the birth mother and child, travel costs, and other costs to reimburse the birth mother. There may be administrative costs and professional fees payable to an adoption agency for child placement services. There will be administrative documentation fees, including fees for notarisation, travel documents, birth certificates, Dependant Pass, and so on.
As an example, you could incur costs for the following:
- Adoption agency fees to identify a child – $25,000-$35,000
- Applying for a Dependant’s Pass – $360
- Visa for the child – $30
- Home Study Report – $1,500
- Singapore birth certificate – $18
- Applying for citizenship and certificate – $170
- Reimbursing the mother for prenatal, postnatal and hospital fees
- Legal fees
- Flights to identify or visit the child
These are only a few examples and estimates of the costs involved.
Any costs incurred during the adoption process must be revealed to the court, and you need to present proof of such payments in original form. You need to present a full breakdown of all amounts to the Family Court. Under section 5(c) of the Adoption of Children Act, the court must approve any payments made to the birth parents before the adoption is legalised.
Adopting a child in Singapore is a complicated process. There are many rules to protect the interests of the child and prospective adoptive parents against scammers. If you are thinking of adopting a child, you must understand and follow the correct procedure.
Our lawyers are well versed in the adoption process in Singapore, please get in touch for a no-obligation discussion if required.