The bond between a parent and a child is unlike any other, and can exist between a stepparent and a stepchild just as well. Oftentimes, a stepparent would like to legally adopt his or her stepchild. As a stepparent, you have no legal parental rights. For instance, if your spouse became incapacitated, died, or you divorced, the court could award custody of the child to someone else, such as a relative. In this case, you could be prevented from ever seeing the child again. But through adoption, your legal relationship with your stepchild will become identical to that of a birth parent and child.
Termination of Parental Rights
Before a stepparent is able to petition the court for the adoption of a child, the parental rights of the biological parent must be terminated. During this process, the non-custodial biological parent gives away all parental rights and responsibilities, including visitation and child support. There are two possibilities for this scenario.
- The biological parent willingly consents or
- The biological parent is unwilling to give away his or her rights
Stepparent adoptions can be complicated when the non-custodial biological parent is still alive and does not consent to the adoption. Here, the parent’s parental rights must still be terminated before the adoption can proceed. In stepparent and relative adoptions, the court can also take a parent’s rights away if:
- Child has been abandoned by that parent;
- Parent cannot be found after a diligent search has been made;
- Parent is insane or otherwise incapable of surrendering such rights; or
- Parent has failed to exercise property parental care or control due to misconduct or inability, and the court is of the opinion that the adoption is in the best interests of that child, after considering the physical, mental, emotional, and moral condition and needs of the child who is the subject of the proceeding, including the need for a secure and stable home.
It is important to note that stepparent adoption not only severs the legal relationship with the non-custodial biological parent, but also with members of that parent’s family, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Thus, grandparent visitation is a consideration for stepparent adoptions.
If the child in question is over the age of 14, his or her written consent to the adoption must also be given and acknowledged in the presence of the court. This can be a traumatic event for the child as he or she will be in court choosing to legally have one person deemed the parent and not the other. This is something to keep in mind and discuss thoroughly with the child before proceeding.
If you would like to adopt a stepchild of yours, please contact the attorneys at Vayman & Teitelbaum. This can be an exciting time, but it is also a complex process with many steps. Our team can ensure that you are properly guided through this process.