How to Do a Stepparent Adoption

Three Parts:Deciding to AdoptFiling the PaperworkFinalizing the Adoption

Stepparent adoption is a great option for families with children from different relationships. There is no legal difference between an adopted child and a biological child for purposes of legal consent, custody, child support, incest and criminal law, inheritance, and property law. Stepparent adoption is also highly symbolic; just like a marriage ceremony, it is a public display of commitment.[1] If stepparent adoption is right for your family, you can complete the process with some paperwork and a couple of court appearances.

Part 1
Deciding to Adopt

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    Research the legal implications of stepparent adoption in your state. In all states, stepparent adoption terminates the legal parent-child relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent. This means that the noncustodial parent will lose his or her parental rights, as well as parental responsibilities, such as paying child support.[2] Additionally, in most states, the child loses the legal right to inherit from the noncustodial parent and the relatives on that side of the family. The child will only receive inheritance from that side if he or she is named in a will.[3]
    • Adoption in the United States is governed by state law, so each state may have different requirements and implications for stepparent adoption.[4]
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    Meet the marriage and waiting period requirements. Most states require that couples applying for a stepparent adoption be married to each other. Some states will not approve a stepparent adoption unless the stepparent has been married to the child's parent and living with the child for 1 year or longer.[5] If your state has a similar requirement, you can begin the adoption process before the one-year deadline; you will just need to wait for the deadline to pass before you get approval.
    • If the applying stepparent is not married to the child's parent, you might consider a "second-parent adoption," which is the available to unmarried couples in some states.[6] Also be aware that some states prohibit adoption by unmarried couples, so verify that you meet your state's adoption requirements regarding marriage.[7]
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    Get the consent of the child. If the child is old enough, the court will want to verify that the child consents to the stepparent adoption. Different states set different ages at which they recognize a child's ability to make this decision. Some states require consent from children 14 and older, while other states require consent from children as young as 10.[8] Even if your child is too young to give consent, talk to your child about the possibility of your new spouse adopting him or her.
    • If your child is old enough to consent to the adoption, the judge will inquire into the child's wishes, most likely by asking questions in court.
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    Get consent from the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent must give his or her consent to the stepparent adoption, because the adoption will terminate the noncustodial parent's parental rights and responsibilities, including directing the child's education, medical care, upbringing, and religious training; as well as child support obligations.[9][10] Some courts require the noncustodial parent to give consent in court, while others accept written consent as part of the adoption paperwork.[11] Explain to the noncustodial parent why you believe a stepparent adoption is best for your family, and ask if he or she will provide consent in writing or at a court hearing.
    • If the noncustodial parent cannot be contacted or will not give consent, you can file an action to terminate his or her parental rights. This usually involves proving that the noncustodial parent has not exercised any parental rights or been in contact with the child. Most states permit termination of parental rights if the noncustodial parent has failed to support the child or has not communicated with the child for at least a year.[12] Contact the court clerk in your county and ask what forms you need to submit to proceed with an action to terminate parental rights.

Part 2
Filing the Paperwork

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    Locate the proper court. Different states structure their court systems differently, so you will need to locate the correct court to file your adoption petition. Depending on your state, you might need to locate your circuit court, district court, superior court, probate court, family court, probate court, or surrogacy court.[13][14] You can find more detail on which court is used for adoptions in each state and territory here.
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    Prepare your paperwork. Most states provide pre-printed forms for stepparent adoptions. You can find those forms at the court's website online or at the court clerk's office. The court clerk may be able to give you a packet of all the forms you will need. The website may also feature an interactive online program that creates your documents based on information you provide.[15]
    • Call the court and ask about self-help programs. Your court have a self-help center where you can ask an attorney to help you with your paperwork for free.
    • Typical questions on the paperwork include the child's full name and what his or her name will be after the adoption, how long the stepparent and biological parent have been married, and where the child was born. You will likely also be required to provide proof of this information, such as the child's birth certificate and your marriage license.[16]
    • If your state has a form for the noncustodial parent's written consent, include that form with your paperwork.[17]
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    File the paperwork. Take your paperwork to the court clerk. The clerk will assist you with filing your petition. Make sure you get a copy of the paperwork for your own records, and a copy to serve on the noncustodial parent. The clerk will notify you of the date of your preliminary hearing.
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    Serve the paperwork on noncustodial parent. Each parent must receive formal notice of the proceedings. You may be required to give notice to the other parent, or your state's rules of civil procedure may permit you to file a "Waiver" or "Acceptance of Service" signed by the other parent. If you are required to give notice, you may be able to request that the court clerk give notice on your behalf. Otherwise, you will need to do one of the following:
    • Pay the sheriff's office or a professional process server to serve the parent; or
    • Arrange for a friend or relative over 18 years of age and not involved in the case to hand-deliver your documents to the other party. This friend or relative will need to fill out a Proof of Service form verifying that he or she served the other party.[18]

Part 3
Finalizing the Adoption

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    Attend the preliminary hearing. At the date and time given to you by the court clerk, you will need to attend a preliminary hearing, which may be a few weeks or a few months away. Both the biological parent and the adoptive parent should attend the hearing with the child. The judge may ask the child whether he or she consents to the adoption. The judge will explain the rest of the process, and may set a date for the next hearing, where the adoption will be finalized.[19]
    • Often, the preliminary hearing can be waived if all parties are in agreement.[20]
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    Pass a background check. Most states require that the adoptive parent pass a criminal background check.[21] The court will arrange for the investigation, which will most likely be conducted in the interim between the preliminary and final hearings.
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    Participate in a home study, if necessary. Some states require that the biological parent and the adoptive parent participate in a home study.[22] The court will appoint an agency to conduct an investigation to make sure that the adoptive parent is mentally sound, financially stable, healthy, and able to support the child.[23]
    • Alternatively, you may be visited by a social worker, who will review how the family is adjusting to the adoption.[24]
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    Attend the final hearing. At the date and time give to you by the judge or the court clerk, you will need to return to court to attend a final hearing. The judge will issue an adoption certificate or court order naming the stepparent as the legal parent of the child.[25]


  • This article is intended as legal information and does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.

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Categories: Parenting