A Step-parent adoption is the common name given to the process where a parent who has a child or children from a previous relationship joins in a legal proceeding with their new spouse or partner to establish him or her as the new co-parent of the child or children. The biological parent of that child or children must have his or her parental rights terminated or ended in order for the new step-parent or co-parent to become the legal parent.
This process is generally done when the biological parent consents to the adoption and voluntarily signs a Consent to Adoption form so that his or her parental rights can be terminated and the Step-parent adoption can proceed. If the biological parent cannot be found to consent to the proposed adoption, or if he or she is opposed to it, there is a process to terminate his or her parental rights without that parent’s consent. If the whereabouts of the parent are not known, it is possible to mail and publish a notice of the court hearing in a newspaper within the general circulation area of his or her last known address. This gives the biological parent notice of the proceeding and of the right to have his or her day in Court to contest the termination of rights. If he or she fails to respond and appear in Court at the designated time and object, his or her parental rights can be terminated or ended by the Court. If the person’s whereabouts are known and he or she contests the adoption and termination of parental rights, a Court trial can be held to have a judge decide if parental rights should be terminated without consent. However, it can be a very costly and uncertain process that is best discussed in detail with an attorney.
The law also requires that the family meet with a qualified social worker who prepares a Step-parent Adoption assessment, formally called a “Post-Placement Report”, which includes a recommendation to the court regarding the nature and adequacy of the adoption and whether it is in the best interest of the child for the planned adoption to be approved.
Once the biological parent’s rights have been terminated and a favorable Post-Placement Report has been completed, the Step-parent adoption can be set for a Court hearing and a Decree of Adoption will be entered by the judge who also directs that a new birth certificate be issued by the vital records office showing both of the petitioning parents as the legal guardians and parents of the child or children.
Please contact our office if you have questions about this process and how it would work in your family’s situation.