When you and your spouse married, you knew you were entering a complicated union. Your love was not limited to your spouse because he or she also had a child from a previous relationship. It may not have been your ideal situation, but the more time you spent together as a family, the more you wondered about the possibility of adopting your spouse’s child as your own.
Aside from the emotional aspect of solidifying your relationship with the child, there are legal reasons for wanting to adopt a stepchild. For example, if anything should happen to your spouse, you would probably have no legal right to make decisions for his or her child. Your stepchild also has no automatic right to inherit from your estate. With these and other benefits in mind, adoption may seem like the most reasonable decision.
Will the other parent consent?
There is one difficult challenge to face before you can petition the court for adoption. If the other biological parent of the child is still living, you must seek consent from him or her. This means the noncustodial parent must be willing to give up parental rights to the child. There are a few exceptions to this rule, including these:
- The parent cannot be located.
- The court has already terminated the rights of the parent.
- The court agrees to involuntarily terminate the parent’s rights because he or she is unfit.
- The parent has essentially abandoned the child, for example failing to pay child support or visit the child for an extended length of time.
- The parent is incarcerated or has served time for a violent or serious crime.
A noncustodial parent who is active and interested in the child’s life is not likely to relinquish or lose parental rights. If this is the case, your chances of adopting the child are slim. However, if any of these factors exist, you may have success in overcoming this first challenge.
After obtaining consent
Once the noncustodial parent has granted consent or lost parental rights, you may begin the adoption process. This means completing the appropriate paperwork and preparing for your hearing in family court. In some cases, the court will conduct a home study to examine your residence, your finances and other factors relevant to your ability to parent. However, many times this step is waived when the adoption involves a stepparent.
During your interview, the judge will ask you personal questions about your life and your family to determine if you will be a fit parent for the child. The judge may also speak to the child. If your bid for adoption meets with the court’s approval, the state will issue a certificate of adoption. You can then celebrate the start of a new relationship with your child.