Adopting a Stepchild

Family sitting on the couch together

When the topic of adoption arises, many people think about adoption through the foster care system, private domestic adoptions, and international adoption. A lesser-known, but very common type of adoption is by a child’s stepparent.

In What Circumstances Can a Stepparent Adopt?

When a custodial parent remarries, the child’s new stepparent inevitably plays a significant role in the daily care and upbringing of the child. In some circumstances, the stepparent essentially replaces the child’s noncustodial parent, like when:

  • The noncustodial parent is deceased.
  • The noncustodial parent has been declared insane.
  • The noncustodial parent has been deemed unfit due to some form of abandonment, abuse, or neglect.
  • The noncustodial parent has no interest in having a relationship with their child, retaining their parental rights, or paying child support.

For the stepparent who has served as a child’s parent, adoption is a meaningful and legal method of cementing that relationship. With adoption comes all the legal rights and duties to that child afforded under the law, the child’s right to inherit from the stepparent, and the right to take the stepparent’s last name.

How Does a Stepparent Adoption Occur?

The custodial parent and the stepparent must be married and file a joint petition for adoption of the child. For a stepparent adoption to occur, the absent, deceased, or unfit biological parent’s rights must be terminated to clear the way for the stepparent to assume that role as the child’s legal parent. This can be accomplished voluntarily via that parent’s consent to the adoption, or involuntarily by a termination of parental rights trial. The noncustodial parent’s consent to the adoption is the most peaceful avenue to effectuating a stepparent adoption; however, this is not always possible.

As for the child, the child’s consent is not necessary to obtain a stepparent adoption unless the child is 14 years of age or older. At this age, the child is presumed to have sufficient maturity to decide whether he or she wants adoption by the stepparent. Therefore, written consent must be submitted by a child 14 years or older.

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