How does a stepparent adopt a child?
When a stepparent wants to adopt their stepchild, they agree to take on full legal and financial responsibility for the child, as if they are the biological parent. After a stepparent adoption occurs, the non-custodial parent (the parent not living with the child) no longer has any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.
The first thing to do for a stepparent who wants to make this commitment is to start researching the specific adoption laws in your state and jurisdiction. The process is a little different in every area, and so are the circumstances in which an adoption is granted.
The Process for Adopting a Stepchild
File with the Court
You will start the process by obtaining the appropriate paperwork for a stepparent adoption with the county court in which you reside. It may be your County’s Family Court, Juvenile Court, or Probate Court. The petition generally contains various forms that you must fill out and outlines what is going to be required for a typical adoption process. You will need to provide numerous documents such as copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce decrees.
Get Parental Consent
You must have the consent of both the child’s biological parents to proceed with a stepparent adoption. If the non-custodial parent agrees to the adoption, he or she may have to appear in court, or the non-custodial parent may have to sign a form in front of a notary.
If the non-custodial parent refuses to give consent for the adoption, then the process becomes much more difficult, and you may need to contact a lawyer. You will need to likely need to prove in court that the parent has abandoned the child or should have his or her parental rights terminated for some other reason. Child abandonment is when a parent fails to have any contact with a child. Neglect, abuse, or committing a crime may be other reasons why a court might terminate parental rights. If the non-custodial parent cannot be located, the burden of proof will fall on the stepparent to prove that the absent parent’s rights should be terminated in the child’s best interests.
Get the Child’s Consent
Depending on the age of the child, he or she may have to agree to the adoption.
Sometimes You Have to Wait
In some states, there are requirements on how long the stepparent must be married to the child’s biological parent before an adoption can proceed.
Get a Background Check
Once you file your petition, an investigator may be assigned to your case to complete a background check that might include psychological, criminal, medical, social, and financial assessments. In some states, the stepparent is required to perform specific home study courses with a qualifying agency.
Once the background check is completed, all forms are received, and all payments are made to the court, a hearing date will be scheduled to determine if your petition for adoption will be granted.
Other issues for parents and stepparents to consider with a stepparent adoption are name changes and inheritance laws in your state.
If you want to request to change your child’s last name, you may do this when you file your initial stepparent adoption petition. Once the adoption hearing is complete, you will be issued a Certificate of Adoption with the child’s new name. If you want to apply for a new birth certificate with the child’s new name and your name listed as his or her parent, that can be done at this time.
Inheritance laws vary by state. In most states, once a child is adopted, he or she is no longer eligible to inherit from the former birth parent unless that parent explicitly writes the child into his or her will. In a few states, adoption by a stepparent does not sever a child’s legal rights to inherit from either birth parent.