Before you start a stepparent adoption

Before filing a request with the court to finalize the adoption of a stepchild, you should formally end the other parent's legal rights and responsibilities. The way you do this varies depending on your individual situation. It may just involve getting the other parent's written consent or it may be more complicated. 

Figure out the status of the other parent

The stepparent adoption process will be different depending on the relationship of the other parent to the child. In legal terms, a parent can be a presumed parent or an alleged father

Who is a presumed parent?

A presumed parent usually had a relationship with the mother during the pregnancy and may continue to have a relationship with the child. They might not be the biological parent of the child, but they are someone who helped raise the child for a period of time and who the child recognizes as their parent.

If a person is a presumed parent, one or more of the following are usually true:

  • They were once married to the child's other parent
  • 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 to 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

presumed parent can also be the person who gave birth to the child.

Who is an alleged father?

An alleged father is any person identified by the mother (or another person) 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.

Why does it matter?

This distinction will affect how you proceed with the adoption process, the legal rights of the other parent, and how the court will determine the best interest of the child.

For example, if the other parent meets the criteria to be a presumed parent and they don't give consent for the adoption, you may not be able to move forward. If the person is an alleged father, and they don't give consent, you may have options for moving forward anyway.

If there is agreement among all parties, the other parent can retain parental rights. Learn more
There is a way for the other parent to consent to an adoption without giving up their parental rights. In this case the child would have three legal parents. Reach out to your Self-Help Center or talk to a lawyer to explore this option further.

Contact the other parent, if possible

Typically the custodial parent will reach out (through a letter, phone call, or email) and let the other parent know that their spouse or domestic partner would like to adopt the child. There are a number of different situations where you will not be able to contact the other parent, and the court makes exceptions for those.

If you feel unsafe around the other parent, direct contact may not work in your case. If you have safety concerns, court staff at a Self-Help Center can give you information. Or you can talk to a lawyer.

Figure out the next steps based on your situation

Answer a few questions to see instructions for your specific situation. The steps you take will depend on the status of the other parent and how they respond when and if you're able to get in contact with them to let them know about the adoption.

Go to the questions

Skip the questions and see steps for all situations

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