What it means to adopt a stepchild
If you are a stepparent and you want to adopt the child of your spouse or domestic partner, you may be able to do so through the stepparent adoption process.
A person who adopts a child has all of the legal rights and responsibilities of a natural parent, and that new parent-child relationship is permanent.
Inform and get consent from the other parent
In a stepparent adoption, the court will end the parental rights of the child’s non-custodial parent (the other parent). Sometimes the child’s other parent agrees (consents) to this adoption. The process of stepparent adoption can only move forward (with some exceptions) if the other parent consents to the adoption, which is essentially giving up parental care, custody, and control.
You will need to notify the other parent of your intention to adopt, and that parent must consent in writing.
If the other parent doesn't agree or refuses to sign a consent
If you're able to contact the other parent and they will not sign a consent to the adoption, you may be able to still go forward with the adoption. In order to go forward without consent, you will first need to determine the “status” of the other parent (presumed parent or alleged father) and that will determine the process that you will need to follow. In some instances, you will not be able to go forward with the stepparent adoption.
A presumed parent usually had a relationship with the mother during the pregnancy and most likely has a relationship with the child. They might not be the biological parent of the child, but they have been a "parent" to that child.
If a person is a presumed parent, one or more of the following are usually true:
- They were once married to the child's mother
- Their name is on the child's birth certificate
- They lived with the child at one time
- They have held themselves out to the public as a parent of the child
- They may have provided support to the mother during her pregnancy and afterward
- They have done everything in their power to raise the child and provide for the child
A presumed parent can also be the person who gave birth to the child.
An alleged father is any person identified as a possible father of the child, including a person who says that he is or could be the father of the child.
An alleged father has not done any of the things that would make someone a presumed parent, such as provide for the child or appear on the child's birth certificate.
If they are a Presumed Parent
Without a consent or response from the presumed parent, the adoption cannot go forward. There are situations where the court may free the child from parental custody and control of the presumed parent. In either situation, the parent needs to receive formal written notice (or publication) of the court hearing. This is typically known as service of process or serving notice.
If they are an ALLEGED FATHER
Without a consent or response from the alleged father, the court may end parental rights. In this case, proper notice must be provided to the alleged father (unless his identity or whereabouts are unknown), and the alleged father must not attend a court hearing to ask the court to keep his parental rights. Since this is a very serious matter, the court will not act unless the other parent knows about the adoption and has a chance to go to court and tell his side of the story.
In some cases, you may not need consent or a court hearing to terminate parental rights
The court may allow a stepparent adoption to go forward without getting the other parent's written consent if:
- The other parent has died
- The other parent signs a waiver saying they do not want to be involved with the adoption
- The other parent signs a form saying they are not the child's biological parent
- You don't know the whereabouts of the other parent and can show the court you tried to find them
- You don't know who the biological parent is and you can show the court you tried to find out their identify and whereabouts
The first step is to contact the child's other parent
If the other parent is still living and the custodial parent is able to contact them in any way, the first step is to reach out and let them know about your intent to adopt the child.
The steps you'll follow for the rest of the adoption process will depend upon what happens once you know the other parent's desires.
If your child's stepparent asks for your consent to adopt
You may have been contacted directly about a stepparent adoption or you may have been served with papers informing you of a proposed adoption. In both cases you have options if you agree or do not agree to the stepparent adoption.
Get information and step-by-step instructions if you want to start the adoption process or if your child's stepparent has started the process to adopt your child.
Before you start a stepparent adoption
If you want to adopt your stepchild, the first step is often to reach out to the child's other parent.
If a stepparent asks to adopt your child
Get information and understand your rights and options if your child's stepparent has asked about or started the adoption process.