For blended families, adoption of a stepchild can be a wonderful way to strengthen the bonds between stepparent and stepchild, while adding legal certainty concerning major life events like medical care, schooling, or the death of the natural parent.
If you are considering adopting a stepchild, know that the law makes such adoptions easier than other forms of domestic or international adoption, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years to complete.
Still, understand that stepchild adoption is a legal process that you will want to make certain is done correctly.
The first thing to know is that, like in many areas in family law, adoption rules vary from state to state. Nevertheless, some general rules and processes apply in most jurisdictions.
Consent of the ‘other’ parent
In most cases, you and your spouse will need to obtain consent from the other natural parent.
Exceptions would include if the other party has died, has lost parental rights, or the parent has failed to have contact with or provided support for the child for a significant period of time.
Navigating the legal system
In most places, the legal process will begin with the filing of a Petition for Adoption with the court, likely in the county that your family resides in. Because each county’s rules and procedures are different, it is in the interest of the whole family that you retain an attorney familiar with the processes where you file.
The court in Missouri and most places will appoint what is called a Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) who is an attorney that represents the minor child. The GAL will generally meet with all parties in the adoption to ensure that the adoption is in the best interest of the child.
The court will likely require a variety of documents (including references and background checks) before holding a hearing to determine whether to approve the adoption.
Once the adoption is finalized, it is permanent and irrevocable. The parental rights of the non-custodial parents are terminated, and they no longer have a legal right to visit the child nor obligation to support the child.
Meanwhile, the stepparent’s rights are permanent. Even if a stepparent and their spouse should divorce, the stepparent retains parental rights and responsibilities.
While the process of adoption can seem overwhelming at first, many excellent resources are available to offer guidance. Online, you may want to review:
- The National Stepfamily Resource Center
- The American Bar Association Family Law Division
If you believe that stepchild adoption could be right for your family, contact Marler Law Partners for a complementary consultation today.