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May 2007 - Stepparent Adoption

If you have remarried and your spouse functions as a parent to your child, you may wonder if your spouse can adopt your child. Adoption by a stepparent isnít always possible, and it isnít for everyone, but it is an option some families find to be wonderful for them.

Stepparent Rights
Your spouse may for all intents and purposes be a parent to your child, but in the eyes of the law, he or she actually has very few rights. A stepparent is not a legal parent and doesnít have any of the rights a parent does. For example, if you want your spouse to be able to pick your child up from school or obtain medical care for your child, you need to give him or her written authority to do so.

There are cases in which stepparents have sought custody of their stepchildren. Usually this occurs in a situation where the couple divorces and the stepparent wants custody or visitation with the stepchild after the divorce. Stepparents donít have an automatic right to custody or visitation and have to prove to the court that they have a close parent-child relationship with the child to even have the chance to go forward with the case. Some states have laws making the process easier, but in general, stepparents have few rights in a divorce.

Why You Might Consider Adoption
If you and your spouse have been married for a while and your spouse has truly become a parent in your childís eyes, you may wish to legalize the emotional bond thatís already in place. If your spouse adopts your child, he or she becomes a legal parent in every way. Your child can inherit from the parent, the parent can seek custody, and the parent can make decisions about the childís life. Adoption is important to some families because it solidifies their bond and makes it public.

The Other Parent
If your childís other parent is alive, you will need to obtain his or her consent to the adoption. A child canít have three legal parents, so the other legal parent must give up his or her rights. There are some parents who have no problem doing this. Signing away parental rights completely severs the legal bond between parent and child, however, it doesnít change the fact that your child has another person he or she is either biologically or emotionally connected to.

If the other parent will not consent to the adoption, you may be able to prove to the court that he or she has had little or no contact with the child or that the contact was dangerous or harmful. In that kind of situation, the court can terminate the other parentís rights.

Another situation that often comes up is if you donít know how to find the other parent to ask for consent. If you truly do not know how to locate him or her, the court will allow you to publish a legal notice in a newspaper. If the other parent does not respond, consent is waived and you can proceed with the adoption.

Adoption Process
A stepparent adoption is a relatively simple procedure. The stepparent will need to get a criminal background check and be fingerprinted. A home study, in which a social worker comes to your home and talks to you and then writes a report, must be completed. There are court costs and filing fees. It is possible to do a stepparent adoption on your own, but the process is simpler if you use an attorney who can handle all the paperwork for you.

Considerations
If your child is a tween or teen, it is likely that he or she has an opinion about the adoption. In many states children in these age groups have to give their consent to the adoption as well.

When the adoption happens, your child will have a new birth certificate issued with your spouseís name on it. It is completely possible, if you have a very young child, that he or she would never have to know about the adoption or the fact that there is a biological parent out there somewhere. Despite this, experts donít recommend trying to keep this kind of secret. Itís very likely that someday your child will find out. Instead, talk openly and honestly with your child about the adoption, the biological parent, and why you made the decisions you did. When your child is an adult, he or she can seek out the biological parent if desired.



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