Starting Step-Parent Adoption? You Might Not Need to Notify a Bio-Parent

step-parent adoptionMaintaining a positive relationship with the other bio-parent of your child is not always possible. In many cases, despite your best intentions, you might find the other bio-parent is irresponsible and unreasonable. This can raise questions as you move forward with step-parent adoption.

With step-parent adoption, your spouse can obtain parental rights over your child.

Parental rights include the ability to make key decisions about a child’s well-being:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Religious upbringing
  • General decision-making

With parental rights, your spouse can speak on a child’s behalf with the same legal force you do. When you have completely decoupled from a bio-parent, it makes sense to ensure your family structure reflects your relationships.

Notifying a Bio-Parent About Step-Parent Adoption

When a bio-parent is hostile or deceptive, it adds emotional stress and other complications to raising your child. Even if a bio-parent is uninvolved, it is important to make sure you protect your legal rights by going through the step-parent adoption process.

Do you have to notify a bio-parent about step parent adoption?

The answer depends on the bio-parent’s status.

  1. If the Bio-Parent Has Already Had Parental Rights Terminated

In some cases, a bio-parent voluntarily surrenders parental rights as part of decoupling. This decision can be executed through the courts in some states. It often happens as part of the ongoing negotiation process for child support and other considerations.

In cases of child abuse or neglect, courts can withdraw a bio-parent’s parental rights. This can be accompanied with a restraining order or other protective measures to ensure a child’s future safety. Child support payments can continue in this situation.

Termination of parental rights means the bio-parent no longer has legal standing in regard to the child. He or she cannot make decisions on the child’s behalf and cannot interfere with decisions made by the custodial parent. In legal effect, the bio-parent is a stranger.

If the bio-parent’s parental rights are terminated, you do not need to notify them about a step-parent adoption. The decision to go forward with the adoption is entirely up to you. However, you should adhere to the terms of any existing contract with the bio-parent.

     2. If the Bio-Parent’s Parental Rights Are Still Intact

It is often the case that a bio-parent is no longer involved in a child’s life even though that parent still retains legal rights. For example, a bio-parent may stop paying child support, might move to a different state, or otherwise take measures to “disappear” and avoid parental responsibility.

That said, the bio-parent’s parental rights are still intact until nullified by a court.

In these cases, both biological parents must consent to the adoption. An estranged biological parent may be willing to surrender parental rights without delay. However, some might assert their parental rights, which requires you to make your case in court.

Your goal in a court hearing is to argue that the other bio-parent should have parental rights revoked. There are two common ways a court recognizes this is the best interests of the child:


A parent can be deemed unfit if he or she is abusive or neglectful, or if currently incarcerated in some jurisdictions.


Abandonment is recognized if a parent has not paid child support or contacted the child within a specific period of time, usually a year. Each state that has an abandonment statute has a different definition so obtaining legal advice is critical.   

In addition, a successful challenge to paternity can remove parental rights.

Concerned about bio-parent consent? Jennifer Fairfax can help you notify a bio-parent, protect your legal rights, and move forward with your step-parent adoption. Contact us today for help.

“I believe in working with each of my clients—in support of their family dynamic—to make the dreams of parenthood a reality. Whether you are single or married; or gay; a step-parent, a surrogate or intended parent or a child of adoption, it is my mission to serve as your advocate. With a dedication to the ethical and sensitive nature of each situation, I will help you understand the laws within Maryland or Washington, DC for adoption or surrogacy, and pledge to be your partner throughout the journey.” - Jennifer Fairfax