How Can a Stepparent Adopt Their Stepchild?

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How Can a Stepparent Adopt Their Stepchild?

When a biological parent and stepparent marry, the stepparent often develops a close bond with the stepchildren. The stepparent serves as a surrogate parent and helps the stepchildren adjust more easily to divorce.

Many stepparents view their stepchildren as their own children, and the children may even refer to the stepparent as "Mom" or "Dad." If the stepparents wishes, he or she can file for legal adoption of the stepchildren.

What Rights Does a Stepparent Have?

Stepparents have no rights if they have not legally adopted the stepchildren. The biological parents are the only parents who have legally cognizable rights. This includes the right to make legal and medical decisions on behalf of the children. The biological parent also controls when stepparent visitation occurs or whether the stepparent can have some form of custody of the children.

When the stepparent and biological parent are married, the stepparent may enjoy many of the same privileges as a parent, but this is only through the stepparent’s union with the biological parent. The stepparent still has no legal rights.

If the stepparent and biological parent divorce, the two may agree to joint custody or a visitation schedule, but because the stepparent still has no legal rights, the biological parent can revise this agreement at any time.

What Rights Does a Stepparent Have after Adoption?

When a stepparent legally adopts the stepchildren, the stepparent is then recognized as a parent under the law. The stepparent has the same exact rights as the biological parent. The stepparent can then enforce these rights in court.

For instance, if the stepparent legally adopts the stepchildren, then divorces the biological parent, the stepparent will have the legal right to request joint custody in divorce court.

How Do I Adopt My Stepchild?

While the exact adoption process varies by state, most states follow a similar procedure.

  1. Speak with the biological parents and obtain consent. Most states require that the biological parents consent to stepparent adoption. However, consent is not necessary from a biological parent if that parent’s legal rights have been terminated. You may also want to speak with the children about how they feel about adoption.
  2. If one biological parent refuses to consent, you may still be able to proceed if you can show the court that the biological parent’s rights should be terminated. You will have to prove that this parent abandoned, abused or neglected the child, is unfit to parent or is not a biological parent of the child.
  3. Prepare and gather all of your documentation, including information on your relationship with the biological parents and the stepchildren, your financial status, and your living situation.
  4. File a petition with the court. If the petition is consented to by both biological parents, both of those parents will also sign the petition.
  5. Attend hearings and comply with any court requests. The court may require interviews, family counseling sessions or home visits. Also pay any court fees.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Adopt My Stepchild?

The stepchild legal adoption process can be very confusing and time-consuming, especially if one of the biological parents objects. If a biological parent objects, not only will you need to navigate the legal adoption process but you will also need to file a petition to terminate that parent’s rights. A skilled family law attorney can help you determine your rights, investigate and pursue a petition to terminate a biological parents’ rights, and file a petition for legal adoption.

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Last Modified: 04-23-2015 04:22 PM PDT

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