Stepparent adoption is the most common type of adoption in the United States. When a stepparent adopts their spouse's child, they become the child's legal parent, with the same responsibilities as the birth parents. After the adoption process is complete, the noncustodial parent is no longer the child's legal parent.
Adoption law varies by state. If you're wondering how stepparent adoption might work in your situation, consult with a local adoption attorney to learn your options.
Adoption is the process where a child becomes the permanent legal child of another parent. Adoption and stepparent adoptions are governed by state law. Most states make the process simpler for stepparents than other prospective adoptive families. However, there are still several steps to take to formally adopt a stepchild. The process may include:
Most stepparents have to have a criminal background check before they can adopt. A home study is required for most adoptions but may not be necessary for a stepparent adoption. In a stepparent adoption, the child may already live with the stepparent and custodial parent. In California, the parent and stepparent must be legally married or registered as domestic partners.
If the court does require a home study, it may include an in-home visit by a social worker, interviews with the prospective adoptive parent, the child's parent, and the child. A home study may also involve talking to any other children in the home. Depending on the state, some stepchildren over a certain age must also consent to the adoption by a stepparent.
In Florida, a petition for stepparent adoption must include:
The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child. Guardians ad litem can include attorney guardians and volunteer guardian advocates to represent the best interests of the child. The child's parent may think this step is unnecessary because they are already acting in the child's interests, but the court may require a guardian ad litem for an impartial recommendation.
In most states, an adult (including a stepparent) can adopt another adult. In fact, in many circumstances, adopting an adult is easier than adopting a minor. The stepchild can consent to their own adoption instead of seeking consent from their biological parent.
Some states require a specific age gap for adult adoption. In Nevada, the adoptive parent must be at least 10 years older than the adult they wish to adopt. In Virginia, the required age gap is 15 years.
A child cannot have more than 2 legal parents. So, stepparent adoption gives the stepparent legal status as the parent and takes it away from the noncustodial parent. To complete the stepparent adoption process, the birth parent (biological father or mother) who does not live with the child must lose their parental rights. In Texas, this is done with a court order terminating parental rights.
To get a stepparent adoption, both the child's parents need to consent. This can be complicated when the other parent does not want to allow the process to go through. If the biological parent is not available, the stepparent may adopt if the child is considered abandoned by the other parent. This generally requires demonstrating to the judge that the parent cannot be located.
Suppose the child's noncustodial parent does not want to consent to the adoption. In that case, the court may still allow the stepparent to adopt based on the child's best interests. Terminating a parent's parental rights is a major step, and the court will not take the process lightly. Talk to your adoption attorney about the legal options for stepparent adoption in your state.
When the adoption severs the legal ties to the noncustodial birth parent, the child may no longer inherit from the noncustodial parent unless that parent provides for the child in their will or estate.
A spouse in a same-sex marriage can adopt their partner's child as a stepparent. The process for same-sex couples is the same as for heterosexual couples. However, if the child was born in another country or is a resident of another country, international adoption of the stepchild may require following the adoption laws of the child's home country and U.S. immigration laws.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a U.S. citizen stepparent may petition for their stepchild to immigrate to the U.S. or adjust the child's legal status if the stepparent married the birth parent before the child's 18th birthday. Talk to a skilled adoption lawyer with experience in international adoptions for advice.