Bringing the Adoption Act into modern times

The New Zealand Adoption Act 1955 (“the Act”) has been widely viewed as being in need of an overhaul to bring it up to date with the modern times. In 2016 the Human Rights Review Tribunal ruled that sections of the Act were discriminatory and outdated. This article will take a closer look at the specifics of the Act that are not in keeping with today’s New Zealand.

Surrogacy – The Act sees the natural mother (the woman who births the child) as the legal guardian of the child. The natural mother is named on the birth certificate and her partner, if she has one, as the father. This occurs even in the case of surrogacy where the natural mother and/or her partner have no biological connection to the child. This means that the biological parents have to go through the adoption process to become the legal guardian of their biological child.

The Act does not allow for surrogacy agreements to be enforced. This leaves the biological parents with little or no security that when their baby is born it will legally become their child if the natural mother decides to keep it. On the other hand, except for direct costs such as the hospital invoices, surrogates cannot be compensated for their time or loss of wages.

Not the nuclear family – Currently under the Act single men cannot adopt a female child unless the court is satisfied that the man is the child’s father, or that there are special circumstances that justify the adoption. There is nothing in the Act that states a single woman is not allowed to adopt a male child.

Until the Marriage Amendment Bill was passed in 2013, same sex couples could not legally adopt children. In New Zealand the number of children available for adoption has declined substantially over the years, meaning many New Zealanders now have to adopt from overseas. The problem for same sex couples in this regard is that New Zealand has overseas adoption agreements with five countries (India, Lithuania, Philippines, Russia, Thailand) but none of these countries will accept applications from same sex couples, whether they are married or de facto.

Magic numbers – The mandatory age requirements for adopters are found in section 4 of the Act. This section explains that you must have reached the age of 25 years and be at least 20 years older than the child that you wish to adopt; or you have reached the age of 20 years old and the child that you wish to adopt is a relative.

You are considered a child in the Act until you have reached the age of 20. This means that adoptees are not able to obtain their birth certifications or know any medical background regarding their biological parents until they reach the age of 20.

The Act is a reflection of New Zealand society in 1955, and perceptions have changed over the 64 years since the Act was brought in, with different views now on adoption. With that said, the Act requires an overhaul to bring it in line with the modern views of today’s world.