When an individual marries the custodial parent of minors, they often are referred to as a "stepparent," which means they perform many of the same duties and roles as a legal parent. Combined families have the option in many cases to make it official by having the stepparent adopt their new spouse's birth children. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding stepparent adoption.
I want to adopt my wife's birth children. How difficult is it to adopt stepchildren?
It is not difficult as other types of child adoption, but there are still steps that must be taken. In most other child adoptions, the court requires home visits and adoption hearings, and there is a long waiting period. Because in a stepparent adoption the parties are related, the courts may remove these requirements in order to speed up the process. The main issue that most stepparents adopting a stepchild face is obtaining consent from the other birth parent.
Do I need consent from the birth parents to adopt my stepchild?
Yes. In all stepparent adoptions, the consent of the other birth parent is required. If that other birth parent's parental rights have been terminated due to abandonment, neglect, unfitness, or failure to pay child support, however, then that birth parent's consent is not required.
Getting consent from the other birth parent is often difficult because, in giving consent, that birth parent is giving up all of his or her parental rights. Of course, this means that that birth parent is giving up all parental responsibilities, such as paying child support, as well, so if the birth parent does not have a relationship with the child anyway, the stepparent may have an easier time getting consent. In some cases, the other birth parent may recognize that the stepparent adoption is in the child's best interest. In those cases, consent is not hard to obtain.
If the other birth parent does not consent, can his or her rights be terminated, anyway?
There are ways to terminate the other birth parent's parental rights, which would eliminate the requirement of his or her consent. Parental rights can be terminated if you can prove the other parent abandoned the child, is unfit, or is not the biological father (when the other parent is male).
My partner and I are a same-sex couple. Can I adopt his child?
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergfell v. Hodges ruling overturned all state bans on same-sex marriage, making marriage equality the law of the land. In most cases, same-sex partners can adopt using the stepparent adoption procedures just like opposite-sex married couples can.
Get a Free Review of Your Adoption Case
Stepparent adoption laws vary by state. A lawyer will make the process easier and will increase the likelihood of your success. You should also check your local government's website for information, forms and instructions on how to proceed with your stepparent adoption. A good first step in the process of adopting your significant other's child is to speak with a family law attorney free of charge for an initial case review.