Stepparents are often important role models, authority figures, and sources of care and comfort to a child. The personal relationship between a stepparent and a child is often obvious: stepparents attend sporting events, holidays, birthday parties, and provide care and comfort in a child’s life. Unfortunately, the law does not automatically recognize a stepparents legal relationship to a child. That can be problematic in some cases, such as when the child’s birth parent unexpectedly dies and there is no other natural parent to take care of the child. The child needs someone to take care of his or her day-to-day life, including medical care and schooling, among other things. The child also needs consistency and a home. The stepparent could theoretically file for custody of the child to secure these things, but custody can be challenged by many people, and it is not the surest way to ensure the stepparent maintains himself or herself as an important figure in the child’s life.
Depending on the circumstances, a stepparent adoption may be a viable option. A stepparent adoption is just that –– an adoption by a stepparent.
There are two routes to achieve a stepparent adoption, by consent or by termination.
Consent from the child’s parents is the easiest way to achieve a stepparent adoption. This is typically the case when there is an uninvolved parent who understands that the stepparent has stood in his or her place for a significant length of time. The uninvolved parent simply signs his or her rights to the child away. After the court confirms the consent, the uninvolved parent has no legal relationship to the child.
Termination is a more complicated means of adopting a stepchild. Essentially, a termination is necessary when a natural parent does not want to consent to the adoption and certain statutory prerequisites are met. Usually, the non-consenting parent has been uninvolved in the child’s life for a period of at least six (6) months. One is asking the court to terminate the uninvolved parent’s rights to the child so that the stepparent can adopt the child without issue. Similar to confirmation of a consent, after a termination of parental rights, the terminated parent has no legal relationship to the child.
Though consent adoptions are indeed easier than termination adoptions, one would be well advised to retain an attorney regardless of what route one needs to take. Adoptions are document heavy, exacting, and each county has its own requirements and nuances. An experienced adoption attorney will be able to efficiently navigate you through the process.
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