Step-parent adoption is not among the most discussed topics in family law, and yet it is one that has a significant impact on many people’s lives. It is the most common form of adoption in the United States. This form of adoption involves a well-established legal procedure, of which the adopting stepparent, as well as the custodial and non-custodial parents, must be aware of. Here is a basic guide to step-parent adoption from the point of view of a family lawyer.

What Is Step-Parent Adoption?

Step-parent adoption is not merely the act of a custodial parent’s spouse assuming responsibility for a child. It is a formal, legal process that the parent’s spouse must go through to adopt the child. Step-parent adoption requires the consent of all living parents – custodial and non-custodial. The new spouse files a Petition for Adoption, as well as some accompanying documents, in order to put the process in motion. If a judge approves the application, the adoption is permanent, the stepparent becomes the child’s legal caregiver, and the non-custodial parent loses all rights to the child and is no longer responsible for financial support or any other form of child care. In order for this to happen, the non-custodial parent must either give up their rights voluntarily, or there must be sufficient grounds for a judge to remove their rights.

Does Step-Parent Adoption Require a Court Hearing?

Step-parent adoption does require a court hearing, even if the other parent consents to it. The parent who is surrendering their rights must appear before a judge and sign the required forms. The judge might ask a few questions to confirm that the consent is genuine. Remember that the court will always consider the child’s needs first, so the judge will also ask the custodial parent and their new spouse questions to confirm that the adoption is in the child’s best interests. If the other parent does not consent to the adoption, then there needs to be an evidentiary hearing, in which the custodial parent and their spouse present arguments as to why the adoption should take place, and the other parent makes a case for keeping their parental rights. 

Can You Adopt Your Step-Child Without Consent From the Biological Parent?

It is possible to adopt a stepchild even if the biological parent does not consent. The judge will terminate the other parent’s rights in respect of the child, provided there is convincing evidence that doing so is in the child’s best interests. The judge will need to be convinced of the following:

  • The other parent has substantially failed to support the child financially for two or more years.
  • The other parent has substantially failed to visit or contact the child for at least two years.
  • The other parent had the ability to offer financial support and to visit and contact the child during those years.

In order to convince a judge of these things, or to present a compelling case to the contrary if you are the other parent, you should definitely seek the help of a family lawyer.

Can a Step-Parent Hire a Family Lawyer?

A step-parent can and should hire a family lawyer when looking to go through the adoption process – especially if the other parent objects and an evidentiary hearing is called for.

Westover Law is a leading firm of family lawyers in southern California. Our attorneys will happily assist step-parents with petitions to adopt their spouse’s children. Book a consultation today.