Step-Parent Adoption

Adopting a stepchild is the most common form of adoption. A stepparent who adopts agrees to be fully responsible for his or her spouse’s child. After the stepparent adoption occurs, the noncustodial parent (the parent not living with the child) no longer has any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.

Legal Issues:

Stepparent adoption, like all other forms of adoption in the United States, is governed by State law. Most States make the adoption process a little easier for stepparents. For example, your family may not need to be represented by a lawyer. You may not be required to have a home study, as parents in other types of adoption are. However, every State is different. For example, some States require a criminal background check even if a home study is not required. Be sure to find out what the laws are in your State.

How long your adoption will take also varies by State. Some States will not approve a stepparent adoption unless you have been married to the child’s parent for 1 year or longer.
Adoption by a stepparent generally has no effect on a child’s legal right to inherit from either birth parent or other family members.

Consent of the Other Parent:
If you want to adopt a stepchild, you must have the consent (or agreement) of both your spouse and the child’s other parent. By giving his or her consent, the noncustodial parent gives up all rights and responsibilities, including child support. Sometimes getting the child’s other parent to agree to your adoption can be difficult.

The way to obtain consent is different in each State. In many States, the noncustodial parent can give a written statement. In other States, he or she may have to appear before a judge or file papers with the court. Some States require the parent to receive counseling, have the laws and his or her rights explained to him or her, or talk to a lawyer.

Some State adoption laws do not require the other parent’s consent in some situations. However, it is important to do everything the law requires to obtain proper consent. Some States’ laws allow for consent to be revoked, and for an adoption to be challenged or overturned, if these requirements are not met or fraud has occurred.

Some States’ laws allow stepparent adoptions to occur even if the noncustodial parent objects or contests the adoption. For example, this may be allowed if the noncustodial parent has not contacted the child for a certain period of time. These situations may be complicated. You may wish to consult with a lexperienced lawyer. When the adoption is final, you can apply for a new birth certificate for your child. This certificate will have the child’s new name, if changed, and list the stepparent as his or her parent.