Step Parent Adoption: 3 Unique Challenges

walking-1081723_1920Step parent adoption is a major milestone in uniting two families into a blended, enduring whole. Step  parent adoption is the process by which a person legally adopts the child of his or her spouse. Once this is complete, the step parent gains all the legal rights associated with parenthood.

Step parent adoptions happen thousands of times every year all over the United States. In fact, this is the most common method of adoption in the country. While there is no need to be intimidated, it’s important to recognize that there are certain challenges in step parent adoption. It may take months to finalize.

There are three unique challenges adoptive parents should know:

  1. The Non-Custodial Parent Must Surrender Parental Rights

One of the biggest issues in any step parent adoption has to do with the non-custodial parent of the child to be adopted. Even if he or she is not present in the child’s life or on the child’s birth certificate, there are certain legal rights he or she holds as a biological parent. If there were formal separation proceedings, for example, the court probably established a schedule of visitation, because the ability to see one’s child is considered a parental right.  But even if they never exercise that right or the court provided restrictions around access, the biological parents rights as a parent remain intact.  

One of the earliest parts of step parent adoption is filing a petition with your local family court to terminate the other parents parental rights. The non-custodial parent may choose to waive all parental rights permanently by consenting to the adoption, clearing the way for the adoption to continue on a consensual basis. If the petition is contested, also referred to as nonconsensual, then you’ll need to attend court hearings to provide evidence and testimony to explain to a judge why the non-custodial parent’s rights should be terminated. This can require several court appearances.  

  1. You May be Required to Complete a Home Study Process or Court Investigation

Home study is a common part of adoption recognized in every state. Some states don’t require a full home study but order an investigation to be conducted by the court.  During either process, a licensed social worker visits the home where an adopted child will live. The purpose of this visit is to ensure that there is a safe and nurturing environment where a child can flourish.

During home study or investigation, the social worker will observe family interactions. In a series of separate one-on-one sessions, he or she will conduct interviews with everyone who lives in the home – not just the parents. The social worker also makes informed judgments about safety, health, mental well-being, and financial stability.

While home study or investigation is comprehensive, it is not meant as a “gotcha.” Even if you have had challenges in the past, the most important thing is that you create a positive environment for your child right now. Courts give great weight to the results of the home study and investigation in deciding whether or not to approve an adoption.  While a home study or investigation is required in every contested adoption, it is not required in every consensual adoption.  Your attorney will advise you regarding what will be required based on your family circumstances.  

  1. The Work of Building Emotional Bonds Lasts a Lifetime

Once the adoption is finalized, a whole new journey begins. Since the family has been together prior to the adoption, there will be few new rhythms, however it is crucial to help the child continue to integrate and develop a positive routine.  All Parents have their work cut out for them in spending time together, creating new family traditions, and going forward into the future together.

Step parent adoption is one of the most meaningful and joyous decisions a family can make. An adoption attorney makes the process much easier. For help from an expert who cares, contact Jennifer Fairfax today.


“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

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