Blended families are increasingly common in the United States. Many people are marrying people who already have children from previous relationships or marriages. If you are married to a person with a child from a previous marriage and the child’s other parent no longer plays a role in the child’s life, adoption may become an option for you. Adoption provides security in many ways and can help bring a family closer together.
Discuss the Issue Thoroughly
It’s important to take the decision to adopt your stepchild very seriously. It may seem like simply a way to make your family “official,” but the reality is that the change will be monumental for the child and can drastically change the family’s dynamic. The child’s name will change, and you will become the child’s new legal parent. Depending on the age of the child, this may be a difficult topic to discuss. Additionally, the existing relationship between your stepchild and the other biological parent may cause some turmoil. However, if adopting your stepchild is a realistic goal, then it is likely the other biological parent is no longer actively participating in the child’s life. Talk with your spouse about the possibility of adoption and whether he or she agrees it is the best next step for your family.
Obtain Consent From the Biological Parent
As the adopting parent, you will need to obtain the consent of the other biological parent to go forward with the adoption. If the other biological parent is deceased, you will need a copy of the death certificate included in your adoption paperwork. If the other biological parent contests the adoption, he or she can block the adoption if he or she still retains some custodial rights. If you cannot locate or contact the other biological parent, you should consult your attorney about what to do next. Some states allow an adoption to go through if the noncustodial parent has not had contact with the child or made child support payments for one year or more. However, this is a general rule that varies by state.
If the other biological parent does not contest the adoption, then he or she simply signs the consent form and no longer must pay child support or meet any other custodial requirements. Once you secure the noncustodial parent’s consent, your adoption petition will proceed to a hearing.
Hearings and Home Studies
The court has a duty to rule in the best interests of the child, so it will want to ensure that your adoption is in the child’s best interests. During your initial hearing, the court will review the paperwork in the adoption packet and advise you of your next steps. In most cases, the court will assign someone to conduct a home study to determine whether your home and family provide a healthy environment for the child. If the court official finds the home study satisfactory, then the adoption proceeds to a final hearing and a judge will make a determination.
The final hearing is the last chance for the noncustodial parent to contest the adoption. If no contention occurs and the judge approves the adoption, then the court will formally recognize the adoption and proceed with changing the child’s last name, if applicable. Once the adoptive parent signs the adoption order, he or she becomes the legal parent of the adopted child.
Adoption is a fantastic way to ensure your stepchild receives the full legal benefits of being your legal child. However, the process is time-consuming and can be difficult if the noncustodial parent contests the adoption. In any event, a couple considering adoption should consult with an experienced adoption attorney to better understand and prepare for the process.