Step-Parent Adoption is Not TemporaryIf you adopt your spouse's children as your own, you will still be on the hook legally even if you and your spouse later divorce. The court can order you to pay child support. On the bright side, since you are a legal parent after a step-parent adoption, your spouse cannot keep you from seeing the children if you divorce.
How a Step-Parent Adoption Affects the Biological ParentsIf the judge approves your petition for step-parent adoption, the child will lose one of his biological parents and the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on the former parent's side of the family. Legally, that person is no longer the child's parent and has no legal rights with regard to the child. She cannot force you to let her see the child or have any contact with him.
Step-parent adoption can cut the child off from the inheritance he might receive from the replaced parent or her family. If, for example, the former parent dies while the child is a minor, the child would have no right to automatic inheritance from her. If the former grandparents left part of their estate through a will or trust to their grandchildren without identifying them by name, the child would lose that inheritance, as he is no longer legally their grandchild. This problem can be circumvented by identifying the child by name in your estate planning documents and clarifying that you want this child to receive your bequest despite the step-parent adoption.
The Process of a Step-Parent Adoption
You must complete two parts:
- Termination of Parental Rights
- Step-Parent Adoption
A child cannot have three parents, so before you can become an adoptive parent to the child, the parent whom you are replacing must no longer be a parent. The courts accomplish this through an action to terminate the parental rights of that parent. The judge must determine that terminating the rights of a biological parent is in the best interests of the child.
After the termination of parental rights is complete, then the step-parent adoption can go forward. The judge must also find that allowing you to adopt the child is in the child's best interests.
Consent by the Other Parent
Sometimes a biological parent will consent to the termination of his parental rights. Consenting does not guarantee that the judge will approve of the termination. If the judge does approve of a termination by consent, it is a voluntary termination. If the biological parent does not consent, but the judge feels termination is in the best interests of the child, the judge can order an involuntary termination. Failure to contact, visit, or support the child for two or more years despite having the ability to do so can be grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights.
Step-parent adoptions are not DIY projects. If you are thinking about adoption, talk to family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding for a confidential consultation.