We all know the lyrics: "Till the one day when the lady met this fellow / And they knew it was much more than a hunch / That this group must somehow form a family / That's the way we all became the Brady Bunch!"
Cheesy, I know. But in reality, blended families are more common now than ever. And stepparents often to come to love and care for their stepchildren as if they were their own. Adoption not only solidifies that bond, but it has some important legal benefits as well. Once an adoption is finalized, the stepparent is treated as though they were the child's parent at birth. They have the right to make decisions regarding the child's health, welfare and education. The child will stand to inherit from the adoptive stepparent. And the stepparent will have the right to petition for custody and visitation if they divorce.
How Does It Work?
In a stepparent adoption, the stepparent petitions the court to adopt the child. Attached to the petition is the child's birth certificate, the death certificate of any deceased parent, and a consent form from the stepparent's spouse. State law also requires that an Adoption Information Form be sent to DHS.
Who Is Involved?
The stepparent's spouse, the natural parent of the child, must consent to the adoption by filing a notarized consent form. Further, the biological parent will need to be given notice of the adoption and have the opportunity to either consent or object, with some exceptions.
A biological parent will be considered to have waived their right to consent or object if their parental rights have been terminated, or if a judge determines that they have "abandoned" the child by willfully refusing to support or contact them for more than a year. If the biological parent is deceased, then the biological grandparents will need to be notified; although their consent is not necessary, they have the right to come to court and object if they choose.
Will I Have To Go To Court?
Yes. But first, there is a ten-day waiting period after the filing of consent to allow a consenting parent time to withdraw the same. In other adoptions, there is also a required minimum residential time as well as a home study and a child study. These requirements are waived in stepparent adoptions.
At the hearing, the natural parent, the stepparent and the child must all be present. The judge or the stepparent's attorney will ask the parents a few questions. If the child is old enough, they may be asked if they wish for the adoption to proceed as well. Any objections to the adoption will also be heard.
The judge will establish that the requirements for adoption have been met and will issue a Decree of Adoption. Then there are usually pictures and a celebration lunch!
If you are a stepparent who would like to adopt a child, call Leslie to schedule a consultation.