The process to adopt your stepchild varies from state to state. However, there are some general rules and guidelines that apply across the board. For example, there tend to be less steps and time involved in adopting a stepchild compared to other types of adoptions. Here is information on another commonality – parental consent – as well as a list of steps you can anticipate when deciding to adopt your stepchild.
Regardless of the state where the adoption will take place, both birth parents must consent to the adoption. In some states, it only requires a written statement from the parents. In other states, they must appear in court.
While it is possible to adopt a stepchild without consent of a noncustodial parent in certain situations, such as parental abandonment, it’s critical everything possible be done to get approval first.
Some states allow for a revocation or challenge to the adoption when the noncustodial parent doesn’t give consent ahead of time.
The first step to take when considering whether or not to adopt a stepchild is to become educated on the relevant state laws. This is important, of course, because you’ll gain a full understanding of what is required of you before, during and after the process. Informing yourself of the process will also save you money when you hire an adoption attorney because you won’t have as many questions to ask, and you can be a better advocate for yourself as well. When you do your research, look for information on issues, such as child custody, legal responsibilities as an adoptive parent, and the specific steps and forms your state requires to complete the adoption process.
The next step in the process is to find an adoption attorney. Some lawyers won’t outright call themselves adoption attorneys, so keep that in mind when searching. For example, if you live in North Carolina, and you don’t find anyone satisfactory listed as an adoption attorney, check under Raleigh family attorney or Raleigh divorce attorney. Obviously you’re not getting divorced, but most lawyers who list themselves as divorce attorneys handle all aspects of family law.
The third step, once you have a lawyer on your side and you are self-informed about the process, will be to work with your attorney to gather the necessary documents to complete the adoption. You’ll need, at minimum, the child’s current full name and what his or her post-adoption name will be, the date you and the child’s other parent were married, and where and when the child was born. Before you meet with the attorney, they may ask you to gather the child’s birth certificate, social security card, your marriage license and a copy of the noncustodial parent’s written consent (if applicable).
A preliminary hearing will be scheduled in family court once the proper paperwork was filed. You, your spouse and the child will most likely need to attend the hearing. If the child is of age to consent to the adoption, the judge will possibly want to confirm the child agrees with the adoption.
If the judge approves the adoption, a date will be set to finalize it. Some states require involvement of a social worker who will make one or more visits to the home to assess how well everyone is adjusting. After the final visit and court hearing, the judge will issue an adoption certificate listing the stepparent as the legal parent. If the child’s name will be changed, that information will be noted on the certificate as well.
Finally, once the adoption is complete, you will apply for a new birth certificate, which will show your name as the child’s parent. It will also reflect the child’s new name, if applicable.
The adoption of a stepchild is an emotional decision that involves everyone in the family, even the noncustodial parent. However, the most important consideration is how the child feels about it. Be sure to include them in the decision and the process. It will be an empowering first step toward a strong parent-child relationship.
Nik Donovic finds happiness in the simple things in life. As a resident of Arizona, he spends most of his free time outdoors hiking, walking, or enjoying the occasional cool breeze instead of indoors (except in the summer, of course!)
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