As the number of remarried adults in the United States reaches all-time highs, blended families have quickly become a new social norm. More and more individuals are entering marriages with children from a previous relationship. For some, such children can add a level of complexity to the new marriage, as the family must contend with visitation schedules and support orders. For many, though, the children simply add to the happiness of the new family, often to such a degree that the new stepparent will decide to legally adopt his or her stepchildren.
Related adoptions, in general, and stepparent adoptions, specifically, represent the most common form of adoption in the United States. The nature of each situation, of course, in entirely dependent on the individual circumstances of the family, but many stepparents are simply looking to provide security and love to the children of their new spouse. In addition to offering benefits to the child, a stepparent adoption also grants full parental rights to the stepparent, creating legal security for him or her as well.
Criteria for a Stepparent Adoption
Unlike other types of adoption, related and stepparent adoptions are often handled in a very streamlined process in the court system. In most cases, background checks, family investigations, and home visits by the Department of Children and Family Services are not necessary. To proceed with a stepparent adoption, the following must be true:
- The stepparent relationship must be legally established; meaning the stepparent’s marriage to the child’s birth parent—usually the custodial parent—is valid;
- The child consents to the adoption, if he or she is at least 14 years old; and
- The child’s other parent either consents voluntarily to the adoption and termination of his or her parental rights, or such rights are terminated by a finding of the court.
Termination of Parental Rights
Upon filing of the petition for adoption, attempts are made to notify the child’s other parent, including a man who never established legal paternity but registered as the child’s putative father on the state registry. The other parent or putative father must consent to the adoption of the child. As long as the other parent is considered fit and maintains parental rights, his or her refusal to consent stops the proceedings.
However, in the event the other parent cannot be reached, or the court determines that termination of his or her parental rights is in the child’s best interest, the adoption may still continue. Statutorily, the court may find a parent to be unfit for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:
- Abandonment of or lack of interest in the child;
- Failure to show interest in the child within 30 days of birth;
- Failure to provide financial support, despite having the means to do so;
- Evidence of repeated abuse; and
- Neglect of the child.
Get Help with Adopting Your Stepchild
If you would like to know more about the process of adopting your spouse’s child, contact a Will County family law attorney. At Kezy & Associates, we are equipped to help families of all kinds through any type of legal matter and welcome the opportunity to work with you. Call our office today to schedule your free consultation.