What to Expect When Adopting Your Stepchild
The process and circumstances in which an adoption is granted can vary by county and state.
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 a biological parent would. After a stepparent adoption occurs, the non-custodial parent (the biological parent not living with the child) no longer has any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.
If you want to become your stepchild’s stepparent, research the specific adoption laws in your state and jurisdiction. The process is different in every area, as 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 from your county of residence’s court. It may be your county’s family, juvenile, or probate court. The petition generally contains various forms you must fill out and outlines what will 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, as part of the process.
Get parental consent
You must have the consent of both of your stepchild’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 consent to the adoption, the process becomes much more complex, and you may need to contact a lawyer. You will 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 child’s age, he or she may have to consent to the adoption in addition to the child’s biological parents.
Be patient if 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.
Attend court hearings
Once the background check is completed, all forms are received, and all payments are made to the court, a hearing date is 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 right to inherit from either birth parent.