NI adoption laws breach human rights, say Lords

Unmarried couples in Northern Ireland will be allowed to jointly adopt children following a ruling announced by Law Lords.

The Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 does not allow a couple to jointly adopt a child if they are not married.

But today judges in the House of Lords – the highest court in the land – have said the law breaches the Human Rights Act.

An appeal was brought to the Lords by an unmarried couple from Northern Ireland.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has a daughter from a previous relationship. The man she lives with wants to adopt the girl together with her mother.

If the couple got married they could lawfully adopt the girl, but they have refused to do so.

Adoption by unmarried couples – including homosexual couples – was legalised in England and Wales in 2002.

However, critics said this was more to do with adults’ rights than the best interests of children.

The average length of cohabitation is two years, at which point a couple tends to marry or split up.

Some 60 per cent of cohabiting couples go on to marry, but of those who do not 83 per cent will break up within 10 years.

If cohabiting couples have a child, they are at least six times more likely to split up than married couples.

Historically, this is why adoption law has required couples to make a legal commitment to each other before making a joint legal commitment to a child.