Bringing the Stepparent Into the Family Law Case

When a stepparent has made a significant bond with his or her stepchild, it is quite common for that stepparent to want to adopt the stepchild. Adoption is a significant legal procedure in which the stepparent becomes a legal parent to the child, with all the rights and responsibilities that parenthood entails.

Adoption can be a lengthy and difficult process, but it is made easier when both of the child’s natural parents consent to the adoption. Although each state’s laws on adoption are different, an adoption in which all the necessary parties consent to the adoption will proceed through certain identifiable steps.

Step One: Consult Your State’s Laws

As noted above, each state has its own laws and procedures for handling stepparent adoptions, so your first step should be to consult these laws and learn what must take place in order for the adoption to be granted. Failing to follow these procedures can permit the child’s other parent to withdraw his or her consent and undo the adoption. Take the time to read through the relevant laws, learn what notification you need to provide to the child’s other parent, and understand how that parent’s consent must be given and recorded before you take any further action.

Step Two: Speak with the Other Parent

Before you start preparing forms and setting a court hearing, it may be beneficial to speak with the child’s other parent and learn whether he or she will, in fact, consent to the adoption. Sometimes parents say they will consent to an adoption until they understand that an adoption will sever all of their rights to see the child or participate in the child’s upbringing.

While the parent will no longer have any legal responsibility toward the child either, some parents are not comfortable with giving up their parental rights. Since your adoption process will look very different if the other parent is not willing to consent to the adoption, it is best to have this difficult talk before the adoption process gets too far. (In some states, children of a certain age must also consent to the adoption.)

Step Three: Prepare the Appropriate Forms

An adoption proceeding will formally begin by filing a petition with the court asking the court to permit the adoption of your child by his or her stepparent. The petition will include certain information about the child and the circumstances surrounding the request for adoption, including (1) the child’s legal name, (2) the child’s birth parents, (3) whether the birth parents consent to the adoption, (4) why the adoption is in the best interest of the child, and (5) what the child’s name should be after the adoption is finalized. The petition is filed with the court and the court will set a date for the petition to be heard. The other parent must be provided with notice of this hearing so he or she can participate if he or she desires.

Step Four: Obtain the Consent of the Other Parent for Adoption

Either at the same time as your petition is filed or before the hearing, the other parent will need to file a sufficient consent to the adoption. This must be done in writing (unless he or she intends to consent at the hearing on the petition). At a bare minimum, the other parent must indicate that he or she understands that by consenting to the adoption he or she is giving up his or her parental rights and is doing so as a free and knowing choice.

Step Five: Finalization of Adoption

If all of the above steps are completed at or before the petition hearing, and if the court is satisfied that good reason exists to permit the adoption, the adoption will be granted and finalized. From this date forward, the stepparent will be considered a legal parent to the child and will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent. If the child is to be given a new name, that new name will be given at this hearing. After the adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate and social security card can be obtained.