One of the most common forms of adoption is when a stepparent decides to adopt a stepchild. This important action means that the stepparent is agreeing to take on legal and financial responsibility for their spouse’s child. It also means that the child’s noncustodial parent releases their parental responsibilities.
A stepparent adoption is likely an exciting time for the stepparent and the child, but there are important considerations to ensure it is appropriately and efficiently executed.
How Does a Stepparent Adoption Work?
Essentially, once the adoption process is complete the stepparent is now legally considered a parent of the child, meaning they have all of the same rights and responsibilities a biological parent would have.
If a stepparent is actively involved in a child’s life, it may not seem necessary to formally adopt the child. Adoption, however, brings a variety of benefits not available without this official process, including:
- A sense of permanency for the stepparent and the child;
- The rights and responsibilities of guardianship if the birth parent spouse dies;
- Rights of inheritance and insurance coverage for the stepchild; and
- The ability for the stepparent to provide medical consent for the child.
Once you have decided adoption is the right step for your family, you will need to make it formal through an official court adoption process.
Prepare for the Process
Each state has specific process requirements for all adoptions, including stepparent adoption. As you prepare for this milestone, you should prepare for the following:
- State Laws
You will need to understand your state’s adoption laws and legal precedents that may be unique to your situation. For example, as of 2013 the state of California now allows children to have three legal parents.
- Court Assignment
The court handling a stepparent adoption may be different from state to state. Some states may handle these matters in a juvenile court while others may have specific family courts familiar with adoptions.
- Needed Documents
As with most legal proceedings, a stepparent adoption requires accurate completion of a number of forms. In states where children can only have two legal parents, one critical form is consent of the non-custodial birth parent. This may be one of the most contentious aspects of the proceeding, as the birth parent will be required to give up all parental responsibilities.
- Hearing Appearances
Attend a hearing. The hearing will allow a judge to hear your particular facts and circumstances and will set a date for finalization of the adoption.
When finalized, you will receive adoption certifications that will allow you to apply for amended birth certificates.
What Documents Do I Need for a Stepparent Adoption?
In order to adopt a stepchild, a stepparent must fill out several forms directed to the adoption process and provide supporting documentation.
- Adoption Request
The adoption request form provides all the basic information about the stepparent and child.
- Adoption Agreement
This agreement provides the consent of the stepparent to the adoption. Depending on the state, the child may also need to provide consent based on their age. For example, children over 12 in California must also provide consent to the adoption.
- Birth Certificate
You will need a valid copy of the child’s birth certificate.
- Marriage License
Proof of your marriage to one of the child’s current legal parents.
- Consent of Non-Custodial Parent
In states that only allow two legal parents, you will be required to provide documented consent of the non-custodial parent forfeiting their rights as a parent. If the previous parent is dead, you will need to provide a copy of their death certificate.
- Consent of Custodial Parent
This document provides proof that your spouse or partner (and the child’s biological parent) consents to the adoption.
- Custody Documents
In the case divorce or other unique living situations, you should provide copies of all custody documents involving the child.
How Much is a Stepparent Adoption?
Stepparent adoption costs vary from state to state. In cases where the stepparent doesn’t hire legal representation and no one contests the adoption, expenses can be limited to the cost of filing documents, the cost of obtaining copies of documents, and the cost of a court investigator. For stepparents who want or need legal representation during the adoption process, fees can range anywhere from $1,500 or more.
As you approach stepparent adoption, it is important to navigate the state law nuances to ensure smooth completion. For assistance, contact us today.