30 Mar What to Consider When Adopting a Stepchild
It is not uncommon for stepparents and stepchildren to form close relationships over time. In fact, many children may consider a stepfather or stepmother as their true parental figure, and vice versa. Due to this, you may desire to adopt your stepchild so that you can become their parent in the eyes of the law. You can show your care for your stepchild this way and reaffirm your role in their life. Should you be pondering this possibility, though, there are details you need to be aware of before initiating the process. These relate to the various responsibilities, benefits, and the required legal steps that will come along with this decision. Here is what to consider when adopting a stepchild.
Permission From the Birth Parents Is Often Necessary
In order to adopt a stepchild, you must not only gain permission from your spouse, but also the other birth parent. This holds true even if that other birth parent is not actively involved in the child’s life. Usually, that birth parent will need to sign a document in which they officially waive their rights as a parent. There are also instances where a court can terminate a birth parent’s rights as well. When this happens, there is no longer a need to receive anything from them as you proceed with the adoption. The following are some conditions that lead to the loss of parental rights:
The Birth Parent Is Unfit
Courts can hold a hearing to determine whether a parent is fit to care for a child. Should they find that a parent has a history of alcohol or drug addiction, abusiveness, or imprisonment, it can relinquish parental rights. Serious mental problems and child neglect also qualify them as unfit.
The Birth Parent Abandoned Their Child
Abandoning a child can also cause an individual to lose their parental rights. Abandonment can come in a couple of forms. The most common version is when a parent has physically left a child and has not been in contact with them whatsoever for an extended period of time. If the parent does not pay child support or fulfill other responsibilities to their child, this may also be considered abandonment.
The Birth Father Is Not the Presumed Father
A third scenario where a court can take away a birth parent’s child-related rights is when it finds that the birth father is not the presumed father of the child. A man is a presumed father if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if his name is on the birth certificate and he married the mother after the birth. Should you be able to show a court that the alleged birth father is not actually the presumed father, you will no longer need his cooperation in the adoption.
You Must File a Petition for Adoption
You must file a petition with the court system that states your intentions when you want to adopt a stepchild. Within it, you will provide the name, address, and age information of yourself, your spouse, and the child, as well as the information of whoever has custody of the child at present. You will also need to outline your relationship with the child and have statements that show that you are able to adequately care for the child. You will likely undergo a background check for this purpose. Additionally, the written consent of everyone involved will go in the petition.
Adoption Brings Greater Financial Responsibilities
Another element of what to consider when adopting a stepchild is the way that it will change your financial responsibilities regarding them. Before adoption, you may provide for your stepchild, but courts will not hold you to the same standard of accountability as a true parent. However, when you adopt, you are fully accountable for meeting the needs of your stepchild. They also become financially tied to you should certain events occur in the future, such as a divorce or your premature death. If you divorce your spouse, who is the biological parent of your stepchild, you will need to pay child support. Likewise, if you die without preparing a will, your stepchild will become your heir by default.
Adoption Will Give You True Parental Rights
Up to this point, we have spoken about parental rights, but you may be wondering what exactly they are. You should know the privileges that come with adoption to see whether it is right for you. Parental rights encompass custody, parental consent, and inheritance rights, which we will explain here.
- Custody Rights: Having custody rights over your stepchild means that they can stay with you in the event that your spouse passes away, since you are their legal parent. You can prevent a situation where a court orders your stepchild to live with another blood relative this way.
- Parental Consent Rights: Parental consent rights allow you to make decisions for your child that relate to school, hospitals, and other circumstances. Without them, organizations may not fulfill your requests. For example, a school may not allow you to see your stepchild’s grades and a hospital may not allow you to give permission for medical treatments if you are not their legal parent.
- Inheritance Rights: As we have discussed in the previous section, an adopted stepchild will become a legal inheritor of your property when you die. These are the inheritance rights that come along with the parental rights you acquire in an adoption.
You Will Need to Hire a Skilled Lawyer
Traversing the complex landscape of stepchild adoption is difficult to do alone. For this reason, you will need to hire a skilled lawyer who can guide you through the many steps involved. An attorney who has experience in adoption processes will be able to aid you as you create your petition, deal with birth parent consent, and attend court hearings. They will also you make sure that you meet all requirements for the adoption, such as approval from a social worker. In the event that a birth parent will not relinquish their rights, your lawyer will provide direction and assistance to potentially show a court that it should terminate that parent’s rights.
Contact LaCoste Family Law if you need an attorney for stepchild adoption. We practice family law in the Tri-Cities, Washington.