Stepparent adoption in California

This guide can help you:

  • Understand when someone can adopt a stepchild
  • Follow the steps to adopt a stepchild
  • Understand your options and rights if your child's stepparent has asked to adopt them

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.

If you want to adopt a stepchild who is 18 or over, you can do so through the adult adoption process. If you are looking to confirm parentage, see stepparent adoption to confirm parentage.

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 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.

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.

How do I determine the status of the other parent?

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:

In order to complete a stepparent adoption, you must get the other parent's consent in writing, show a reason they do not need to consent (deceased, not the biological parent) or ask the court to end their rights as a parent.

While you can file a request for stepparent adoption before completing one of these steps, the adoption can't move forward and won't be completed by the court until you do this. 

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 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.

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.

Stepparent adoption in California

Step-by-step instructions

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.

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