A stepparent is a growing role in today’s world. And in some cases, a stepparent is more significant in a child’s life than a biological parent. If this is the case in your life, your family might be considering stepparent adoption—the formal court process that allows a biological parent’s spouse to adopt the spouse’s child.
As a lawyer who has handled numerous adoptions, I can tell you that stepparent adoption is the country’s most common type of adoption. This is because the process is more streamlined than other forms of adoption.
It is also a very joyous occasion. There is no better feeling than watching a stepdad/stepmom assume their rightful and legal position in a child’s life (especially when they have raised them since birth).
If you have made the decision to adopt your stepchild, there are a few things you should know:
Adoptions are Permanent
When you adopt a child, you are legally occupying the same position toward that child as if you yourself were the biological parent. Until the child reaches 18 (and in some cases longer), you are jointly and severally liable for that child. What does that mean? If you and your spouse (the biological parent) split, you are required to pay child support. Has the child been skipping school? The authorities will be knocking on your door. Did the child injure someone recklessly? You could be responsible. In the eyes of the law, that child is your child.
What are the Requirements?
- You must be married to the child’s biological parent
- The child must live with you and your spouse
- Written consent of your spouse
- Written consent of the other biological parent, or an order terminating the other biological parent’s parental rights
- Several criminal background checks
- In some cases a home study by a licensed state agency
- Written notice to all living grandparents
What if the Other Biological Parent will not Consent?
If the other biological parent is unwilling to voluntarily terminate his or her rights or cannot be located, it is possible to petition the court to terminate that biological parent’s rights to clear the way for a stepparent adoption. In order for that to happen, you will need to prove that the other biological parent has:
- Abandoned the Child
- Failed to support and/or communicate with the child for an extended period of time
- Is Unfit
How Much does it Cost?
Costs vary depending upon the type of adoption. A straightforward and uncontested adoption is relatively inexpensive. There is typically a filing fee for filing the adoption petition, minor fees associated with the background checks, and the cost of your attorney. An attorney is not required in an uncontested case, but I highly recommend one. A lawyer can draft the adoption petition, which is helpful since the law dictates exactly what must be included in the petition. You also do not want to miss any statutory deadlines when it comes to consent and notices. If money is an issue, hire a lawyer with a reasonable flat fee or see if your local legal aid society can assist.
Will we have to Attend a Hearing?
Absolutely. Even if no one is contesting your adoption, you still need to appear in court. The judge will question you about your fitness to adopt the child, or in other words can you provide for the child, do you have a stable home, etc. Sometimes the judge might ask the child’s opinion, depending on his or her age.
Will the Child be able to Take My Name?
Yes. In the eyes of the law, you are now in the same position as if you were the biological parent, and that right includes bestowing your last name upon your child. If you want to change the child’s last name, you will want to state this in your petition and address it at the hearing (your lawyer can handle those details). Once the judge signs off on the adoption, you can apply for the child’s new birth certificate.
*These are the basic requirements. Depending on your jurisdiction and situation, requirements vary.
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. If you are considering adoption, it is highly recommended you consult with a licensed and experienced attorney in your jurisdiction.