Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law
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Undertaking the challenge of stepparent adoption

Chances are, you already consider your stepchild to be your own. However, in the eyes of the law, this is far from the truth. If you have been married to the child's biological parent for more than a year, you may be considering the benefits of adopting the child. Not only will taking this step solidify the bond between you and the child, but it will provide you with legal powers, such as making medical and educational decisions, which you may not do as a stepparent.

Because family courts strive to keep children with their parents when such situations are safe, you likely understand that the law is on the side of your stepchild's biological parent, and obtaining legal advice is the best first step to take if you are considering trying to adopt. An attorney can guide you along the path that best suits your unique circumstances.

Obtaining permission

After you have gathered information about the laws pertaining to stepparent adoption, obtaining consent from the child's parents is the first step in the process. Although your spouse is probably eager to grant consent, getting the non-custodial parent's consent may not be so easy. While it may be difficult for the child, your best chances exist when your stepchild's parent is not involved in the child's life.

A non-custodial parent who takes little interest in the child may be willing to relinquish parental rights, especially if it absolves him or her from the responsibility of paying child support. However, if the non-custodial parent refuses to consent to your adoption, this may stall the process indefinitely. In California and other states, you may petition the court to terminate the parent's parental rights, and you may succeed if the parent cannot prove his or her attentiveness and involvement in the child's life.

The Process

Once you have consent, you may follow these steps:

  • Gather the forms you need to submit to the court.
  • Complete and file the documents with the help of your attorney.
  • Receive notification of your hearing appointment.
  • Attend the hearing where a judge will question you.
  • Receive adoption certificates at a finalization hearing.

Once you have these certificates, you may apply to have your adopted child's birth certificate amended to include your name.

The steps listed above are only a general idea of the process of stepparent adoption, and your circumstances may require additional hearings or even a home visit. However, completing the process successfully means you will be the legal parent of your spouse's child and enjoy the lifetime of benefits that accompany such a privilege.

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