When a stepparent and a stepchild develop a close, nurturing relationship, they may consider an adoption to formalize their familial ties. If the stepparent can get consent for the adoption from the child’s other biological parent, the process should flow smoothly. There are fewer requirements for stepparent adoptions than for other adoptions because the stepparent usually has become a key part of the child’s life already. You might not need to go to court for a hearing, and you will not need to undergo a home visit by a court investigator.
That said, getting consent can be very challenging. The child’s biological parent sometimes will give up his or her legal rights, such as when he or she is struggling to keep up with child support obligations. But often a biological parent will be reluctant to lose all influence over raising a child whom he or she helped to bring into the world. If the biological parent does not consent to the adoption, the stepparent faces the daunting task of trying to terminate the biological parent’s rights against his or her will.
Terminating the Biological Parent’s Rights
There are only a few ways to achieve this goal. The stepparent can show that the biological parent has abandoned the child or has deliberately refused to support the child. Abandonment often means that the biological parent has not been in contact with the child for at least a year. This is not an easy standard to meet. Alternately, the stepparent can argue that the biological parent is unfit, which usually requires showing evidence of child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse, mental illness, or a significant criminal history.
The most straightforward way to adopt a stepchild is by first getting the consent of the child's noncustodial parent. By giving his or her consent, the noncustodial parent gives up all rights and responsibilities with respect to the child, including child support. In most states, children over a certain age must also consent to being adopted by his or her stepparent. The manner in which consent must be given also varies from state to state but can involve anything from merely a written statement to an appearance before a judge.
If the biological parent is steadfast in refusing consent, the stepparent might reconsider whether the satisfaction of adopting the child is worth the upheaval that the ensuing legal battle might cause. A child who has a steady relationship with both the biological parent and the stepparent might not benefit from watching them wage war in the courts over him or her.