If your spouse has a child from a previous relationship, after you get married it may feel like the next logical course of action would be to adopt your stepchild. Although this is one of the most common types of adoption in the United States, it can also be a confusing and complicated process, depending on the specifics of your situation. It will be very important, if you’re considering stepchild adoption, to look further into the laws in your state and consult legal counsel on the right course of action for your family. Here are a few essential things to know before you move forward with this decision.
State Laws on Stepparent Adoption Vary Greatly
States have many different requirements for stepparent adoption. Some states require home studies, some do not. Some require background checks, some do not. Some have a required minimum amount of marriage or time living together with the child, and some do not. Since adoption of a stepchild can happen for a variety of reasons—from simply a desire from all parties for family unity to an absent or unfit biological parent—the laws that surround the subject are just as varied. This means that, depending on your situation, different needs may apply. Be prepared for any and all of the above requirements, while also knowing you may not need any of them.
Consent Is Required
Getting consent from all necessary parties is often the most complicated and difficult part of the stepparent adoption process because consent is generally a non-negotiable requirement before your adoption can go through. You’ll need to get consent from the custodial parent (your partner), as well as from the other biological parent. It is important to know that, when the biological parent gives consent for the stepparent adoption, this adoption terminates their parental rights and responsibilities, including child support. It is possible to move forward with a stepparent adoption without the consent of both biological parents only if the parental rights have already been terminated prior, or if a situation like abandonment is in play, although the details of what is considered child abandonment do vary state by state. If you’re hoping to move forward with the condition of abandonment, do make sure you and your partner have as much proper documentation on this as possible, as courts are not quick to terminate a biological parent’s rights without clear proof of obvious parental irresponsibility.
In addition to the necessary consent of both biological parents, in many states older children (generally 10-14+, although this varies too) will need to consent as well. This can be both a beautiful and difficult topic for children, so be sure to approach the subject carefully and kindly, and be prepared for the potential of mixed-feelings, particularly if they already struggle with their relationship (or lack of relationship) with their biological parent. Although stepparent adoption does terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent, it does not necessarily mean the children will no longer have a relationship with that parent, if they so desire. If that’s something that may be a possibility in your family, it’s a good idea to make that clear to the kids, who may feel even more abandoned by their biological parent with this news.
Consult a Lawyer
Although a lawyer is not required to petition for stepparent adoption, it’s a good idea to get legal counsel, at least in the beginning of your adoption journey. This is important not only with the variety of state laws on the subject, but also because a lawyer with experience can be a huge help in navigating some of those more difficult conversations with biological parents and children alike. Having a great support system and lots of resources around you can do nothing but help in facilitating this process in a positive, clear, and organized way.
Stepparent Adoption is Not a Necessity
Stepparents get a bad rap in our culture and it can feel like an absolute necessity to adopt your stepchildren and do away with that negative stereotype, but it’s important to know that stepparent adoption is not always the right choice for every family and you should not feel any outside pressure to make such a major choice if it isn’t the right call for you. Being an amazing parental figure in your stepchild’s life can be done whether there is a legal adoption or not, so if it isn’t the right choice—or isn’t even an option—for your family, do not worry about it too much or allow it to negate the important role you already play in that child’s life.
The process of adopting your stepchild can be a complicated, exciting, scary, and wonderful, but if you’re clear about the laws in your state, obtain consent from all required parties, and obtain legal counsel to make sure everything goes as planned, you will be that much closer to a stepparent adoption.