Stepparent adoptions can be a wonderful solution for many blended families. But knowing the challenges you may face along the way is vital for a smooth transition. The laws vary depending on your state, and it's a good idea to consult with a family law attorney to get sound legal advice. But here are six key factors to keep in mind before proceeding so that you're better prepared for your case.
Birth Parent Must Give Consent
Before moving forward with the adoption, the first thing to do is contact the birth parent and let them know you wish to have your spouse adopt so they can consent to the adoption. Ultimately, they will be giving up their rights to the child.
If the parent does not want to give up their rights, then the courts will sometimes agree to terminate parental rights. This is typically done in situations where the parent is proven to be unfit, does not provide financial support, doesn't communicate with the child, or has otherwise abandoned the child for a certain length of time. In situations where parental rights are terminated, consent is not required.
The laws required to prove a parent unfit will vary, but they typically include situations in which they are incarcerated, suffer from drug or alcohol abuse, have a diagnosed mental illness, or have repeatedly failed to visit the child.
Bear in mind that in some states, the child's legal father has 10 days to change his mind after agreeing to the adoption.
Adoption Must Be in the Child's Best Interest
Naturally, you know that your spouse would make a wonderful adoptive parent. But proving that in the eyes of the law is something else altogether. The courts will only approve the stepparent adoption if they believe it to be in the child's best interest. And quite often, children over a certain age will need to consent to the adoption as well. In some states, that age is 12 while in others it's 14.
Stable Marriages Are Most Favorable
Obviously, a stable marriage will be crucial in moving forward with the adoption, but many parents want to know how long they need to be married before the courts will allow the stepparent to adopt. Generally speaking, there isn't a set length of time, but in some states, the child must have lived with the adoptive parent for at least six months.
Adoptive Parent Will Have Legal Obligations and Rights
It's important to understand that once the adoption is final, the new adoptive parent will have the same legal obligations and rights to the child as if they were the child's natural parent. This includes the right to make legal and medical decisions if necessary, but it also means that if a divorce occurs at some point, the adoptive parent can be required to pay child support, and they may seek custody as well.
Former Parent No Longer Legally Responsible For Child
For the same reasons that an adoptive parent will be legally responsible for the child, the birth parent that gave consent for the adoption will no longer be responsible for the child, and this includes child support obligations.
For example, suppose your child's biological father was ordered to pay $100 weekly in support, but he hasn't paid in two years. He owes you $10,400 in child support at the time of the adoption, but once your spouse adopts, he is no longer required to make those weekly payments. However, in many cases he will still owe the $10,400 in arrearages because he was obligated to make those payments while he was the legal father.
Know Your Reasons for Adopting Before Agreeing
Adopting a child is a lifelong commitment. Because the adoptive parent will be legally responsible for the child, it's vital to evaluate your reasons for taking on the responsibility. If you truly want to be the parent and provide a lifetime of stability to the child, then you can feel good about moving forward. If, however, you're pressured into signing or you're simply trying to rescue a failing marriage, then you may want to rethink your decision.
For more information on stepparent adoption, contact a lawyer from a firm like Mills & Mills Law Group.