Step parent adoption is one more marker on the path to blending two families into one harmonious whole. No matter how long you've been in a relationship with your partner, it is important to pursue step parent adoption because it confers unique parental rights. This lets you make decisions about the safety and well-being of your partner's child the same way you could with a biological child.
Specifically, parental rights mean:
You have a right to physical custody of the child, including regular contact and visitation with him or her
You have legal custody, the ability to make decisions about the child's health, education, and religion
You have the right to pass property on to the child through the legal and tax benefits of inheritance
You have the right to a child's earnings, if any, and to inherit from him or her in the event of death
As valuable as all of these things are, there's another reason to go forward with step parent adoption: It helps protect you from legal problems. When you complete the step parent adoption process, the parental rights of the non-custodial parent are terminated, so there is no confusion about who is a child's legal guardian.
Step parent adoption is a serious but worthwhile undertaking. For many couples, it is just as meaningful as living together or getting married. It also marks a new chapter in the life of the child, who can look forward to the future with clarity and stability knowing that their new family is sure to last.
Today, step parent adoption is the most common way to adopt children in America.
How to Get Started with Step Parent Adoption
Different states have varying standards and practices when it comes to step parent adoption. In general, though, the process has several sequential steps. An adoption attorney can help you meet the requirements by ensuring you file the right paperwork and prepare effectively for each phase of the journey.
Here's how step parent adoption unfolds:
1. Initial Court Filing
Step parent adoption begins with a petition to the family court in the relevant county. The petition must be filed in the county where you reside, where the child was born, or where the child is living now. The filing serves as notice to the court that you intend to proceed with adoption.
2. Termination of Parental Rights
Once the court accepts the petition, the non-custodial parent must terminate his or her parental rights. The parent can abandon their rights to the child by submitting a signed waiver to the court. Otherwise, you must prove to the court that the non-custodial parent is unfit. This can require several court hearings.
3. The Home Study Process
A home study is a common part of adoption, although it can sometimes be waived by the court. During a home study, a licensed social worker conducts interviews with each member of the household and ensures the home environment is safe, secure, and healthy.
4. Legal Transfer of Child Custody
After the home study, the social worker submits a report to the court with recommendations. As a rule, the court weighs home study findings heavily in whether to approve an adoption. Some states require that the petitioning step parent be married to the biological parent for a period of time before custody is granted.
Step parent adoption is rewarding but complex. Before you embark on your adoption journey, talk to an expert who cares. Jennifer Fairfax has helped hundreds of families throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. For personalized advice to make step parent adoption easier, contact us today.