Being a parent is a rewarding, yet difficult job. When you're a stepparent, the job can present additional challenges as you fill an important niche in a child's life. Sometimes stepparents chose to further expand their role by adopting their stepchildren, although there are legal hurdles that must be crossed to formalize that relationship. This article will provide answers to some of the most common questions about stepparent adoption, including:
I want to adopt my spouse'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 a stepparent adoption because the parties are related, the courts may remove requirements like home visits 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 then that birth parent's consent is not required.
Getting consent from the other birth parent is often difficult because it means that that birth parent is giving up all parental responsibilities. If the birth parent doesn't have a relationship with the child, the stepparent may have an easier time getting consent.
If the other birth parent does not consent, can their rights be terminated anyway?
There are ways to terminate the other birth parent's parental rights, which would eliminate the requirement of their 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).
The term "Abandonment" means that the parent has not communicated with the child or provided financial support for the child. If the other birth parent has continuously failed to provide child support or has abandoned the child for a length of time (one year in most states), then their parental rights can be terminated.
If you have cause to show that the other birth parent is unfit, most state courts will conduct a fitness hearing. At this hearing, the court will deem the other birth parent unfit if they are abusive, neglectful, fail to visit, have a mental disturbance, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or are incarcerated.
Presumed birth father is not really the father:
Showing that the other parent is not legally the father can also terminate that father's parental rights. In all states, when a child is born to a married couple, the husband is the presumed father. If a man marries a woman after the birth of the child and the man is named as father on the birth certificate, that man is the presumed father.
If you can show that the purported other parent is not the presumed father, you don't need to show unfitness or abandonment and you wouldn't need his consent for stepparent adoption. However, if the other parent does meet one of the requirements of your state's "presumed father" definition, then either his consent will still be required, or you will need to prove abandonment or unfitness.
My partner and I are a same-sex couple. Can I adopt his child?
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell 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.
Need Help With Your Adoption Case? Contact an Attorney
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 is to speak with a skilled adoption lawyer.