Family Member Adoptions & Legal Issues
When birth parents are unable to parent, states will usually look for family members or other people with a close relationship to the child to serve as adoptive parents. In adoption proceedings, family members will generally be given preference over people who do not have a familial relationship with the child. Adoption by family members is the most common kind of domestic adoption.
One kind of family member adoption is stepparent adoption, sometimes also known as second parent adoption. Stepparent adoption is the most common kind of adoption. Compared to other kinds of adoptions, with stepparent adoptions there are usually fewer screening procedures. Some states do not require home studies for stepparent adoption, but others do. There are also states that require the stepparent to have been married to the biological parent and living with the child for a certain period of time.
The main hurdle to stepparent adoption is usually consent. In order for a stepparent adoption to become finalized, the biological parents must consent, as long as they still have parental rights. Typically, the most difficult consent to get is from the biological parent who is not married to the stepparent. In these scenarios, often one of the biological parents is not involved in the child’s life, and the stepparent steps into that parenting role.
If the biological parents still both have parental rights, but one of the parents has essentially abandoned the child, the parental rights of the estranged parent may be terminated due to abandonment. This can allow the stepparent to adopt the child when the estranged parent does not consent. However, the conditions for termination due to abandonment are strict. In most states, if the child is over a certain age, they must also give consent.
Grandparent adoption is another common kind of family member adoption. It is important to distinguish grandparent adoption from the more common scenario of grandparent guardianship or custody. In those scenarios, the grandparents have some rights, but the biological parents retain parental rights.
Guardianship or custody usually means that the child lives with the grandparent(s), and these arrangements give grandparents the ability to do things like register the child in school and make decisions for the child. There are also powers of attorney and medical consent forms available in some states that allow grandparents to have discrete rights, such as the right to make medical decisions for the child.
Also, sometimes grandparents act as foster parents for a child. In this scenario, the state continues to have legal custody, but grandparents have physical custody. Whereas grandparent adoption gives the grandparents full legal parental rights, grandparent guardianship, custody, or foster care allocates some parental rights to the grandparents, but the biological parents may be able to retain legal parental rights.
By their very nature, the majority of grandparent adoptions are open adoptions. However, sometimes biological parents and/or grandparents decide that a closed adoption will be a better option. A closed adoption in this scenario means that there is no ongoing contact between the child and the biological parent(s). This situation usually arises when it would be unsafe for the child to have an ongoing relationship with their parent(s), often due to abuse, neglect, addiction issues, or trauma.
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