Adoption is one of the most important steps you can take toward caring for a stepchild you love as one of your own. It may not seem crucial on the surface, but there are key benefits to adoption, including gaining parental rights and formalizing a commitment to a child who needs you. But the stepparent adoption process can be overwhelming if you aren’t familiar with the legal proceedings. This guide will give you a basic understanding of the steps involved in adopting a stepchild.
If you’ve decided you want to make a legal commitment to adopt a stepchild you care about, contact us today. We’ll help you navigate the system and take one last step that can mean everything to a child you love.
- Have a long, detailed discussion with your family
You may be excited to get the ball rolling and enthusiastic about the prospect of being a legal parent. While this is wonderful, it’s also important to have a frank discussion with your spouse and with the child (if they are of an appropriate age to understand what’s happening).
Remember that legally binding yourself to a child will make things very complicated should you and your spouse ever split up. This will also likely be a big psychological change for the child. Take time to think it over and be sure you are 100% confident in the decision before moving forward. Sessions with a family counselor are a good idea if you have any doubts.
- Speak with/hire an attorney
You can represent yourself in the adoption process, but if you foresee any potential issues, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney. These issues could stem from an uncooperative biological parent or a lack of understanding of the legal process. Either way, an attorney is an invaluable resource.
- Research the legal implications of adoption
Once you’ve decided you and your family are emotionally ready for stepchild adoption, you’ll need to learn more about what being a legal guardian will mean. You’ll be taking on all of the rights and responsibilities associated with parenthood and forgoing any benefits you’ve been receiving from the biological parent like birth control. If you and your spouse divorce, custody of the child will be treated as if you are the biological parent. Talk to your attorney if you have any questions.
- Gather necessary documents
Like most legal processes, you’ll need quite a bit of documentation. You’ll need the child’s birth certificate, you and your spouse’s marriage certificate, the biological parents’ divorce documents (if applicable), and either a death certificate of the former spouse or their current address. You’ll also need any documents the child has, such as a social security card. Depending on your situation, you may need other documentation too.
- Make sure you can afford adoption fees
Adoption isn’t necessarily prohibitively expensive, but it can take a chunk out of your savings. Costs can vary wildly, and may include a court filing fee, criminal background checks, an attorney for the child, and more. In general, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,000, but your attorney can give you a better idea of how much it will cost you specifically.
- Get the other parent’s consent (if possible)
This step can be easy or incredibly difficult, but it is necessary. The child’s other biological parent will have to waive all rights and responsibilities toward the child. Your adoption package form will have a spot for the other parent to sign and notarize to ensure their consent. If they are deceased, you’ll need to instead add a certified death certificate copy.
In some cases, a parent will be more than happy to be freed from obligations like child support payments. If this happens, things will be much simpler. In others, they won’t willingly give up their parental rights. If this happens, your attorney will help you know how to proceed, but it will complicate things greatly either way.
If you can’t locate the other parent, you’ll need to make convincing attempts to try. Search for them online, through former employers, in phone directories, and through any other methods you can think of. You’ll need to prove that you made a good faith effort to find them.
- File for adoption
It’s now time to take a big step and actually file for adoption. Your adoption petition is a document that requests allowance to adopt. We highly recommend using your lawyer to guide you through this process, because any mistakes you make can cause problems in the future.
Once completed, pay your fee and file your petition in the courthouse of the county where you’ve lived with the child for at least six months.
- Attend a first court hearing
During a preliminary hearing, a judge will review your documents and address any potential issues. The biological parent can appear if they choose to and either confirm or deny their consent. If they don’t appear, you aren’t required to speak to them anymore. Address any concerns the judge has and make up for any missing documents. It isn’t common in stepparent adoptions, but the judge may order a home study to ensure a healthy environment for the child.
- Finalize the adoption with one last court hearing
Here the judge will make their ruling. They’ll review the final documents and talk to you about your intentions. Your spouse will provide their consent, and the biological parent will get one last opportunity to confirm or deny theirs. The judge may also talk to the child. Ideally, they will then confirm your adoption and you can change your child’s birth certificate to reflect your parenthood. Congratulations!
Let us help you take that One Last Step
The Stepparent Adoption Law Center is dedicated to one purpose: stepparent adoption. We know there is often a lot of concern and worry about the stepparent adoption process. We also know that there have been countless cases where adoption has brought unmatched joy to parents and solidified a lifelong relationship between a child in need and a stepparent who loves them like their own. We’re here to help you through this process. To learn more, contact us today.