Most matters that go before the courts have two sides. Adoption is no exception. This is especially true in the case of stepparent adoption. Whether you are trying to adopt or a petition has been filed to terminate your parental rights, it is important to understand the process of step-parent adoption. It is also of the utmost importance to keep the child’s best interests a priority.
There are three basic steps in a stepparent adoption:
- Terminating the biological parent’s parental rights
- Filing of a petition for adoption and related paperwork
- A court hearing to finalize the adoption
The Biological Parent
Most of the time in a stepparent adoption, termination of the biological parent’s status is voluntary. This can eliminate a lot of time, expense, and emotional turmoil from the process. There are many reasons why a biological parent may agree to have their parental rights terminated. They are usually no longer required to pay court-ordered child support. The parent or the child may no longer live near one another. The biological parent may decide that the child’s life will be less disrupted without them in it. Whatever the reason for consenting to the stepparent adoption may be, it is usually grounded in love and is ultimately sacrifice on their part to give the child the best life possible.
Once the biological parent agrees to have their parental rights terminated, they must sign a consent form stating that they are giving up their parental rights of their own free will. This form must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public or court administrator. After signing the consent to revoke their parental rights, the biological parent has 10 business days to change their mind, before the stepparent adoption process resumes.
If the child to be adopted is over the age of 14, the child must also sign a consent stating their willingness to be adopted.
Petitioning the Court for a Stepparent Adoption
Once the biological parent has consented to revoke (or the courts involuntarily terminate) their parental rights, the custodial parent must file a petition for stepparent adoption.
It is required that the stepparent seeking to adopt has been a resident of Minnesota for at least a year. There is also a post-placement assessment. However, the parent retaining custody and the stepparent can file a motion with an affidavit supporting their position that these requirements be waived.
The county will conduct a background check concerning the stepparent. It is less in-depth than those done in other kinds of adoptions. Once the results of the background check come back, the court administrator will notify the parties, and the judge, that the matter is ready for a hearing.
Contesting the stepparent adoption
There are, of course, situations where a stepparent wants to adopt but the biological parent doesn’t want their rights terminated. Often the biological parent loves their child, but they are inconsistent with exercising their visitation rights and/or paying their child support. Meanwhile, the stepparent has formed a strong bond with the child.
Before the process can move forward, their parental rights must be terminated by a court. In this case, the custodial parent will need to petition the court for involuntary termination and give notice to the biological parent. This is a separate filing as a juvenile matter and the County Attorney’s office will also have to be notified.
These are tough cases for courts to consider. While the biological parent probably should have done a better job of exercising their parental rights and/or responsibilities, it can be difficult to determine when it’s so bad that the best interests of the child are served by a terminating the biological parent’s parental rights forever? This can turn the case into a battle between parents. Emotions run high with the child caught in the middle. Because of this, stepparent adoptions can be some of the most difficult cases a family court might face.
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
Once a biological parent agrees to revoke their parental rights they may wonder when this actually takes place. The biological parent’s parental rights are terminated upon the adoption of their child by a stepparent. They may remain responsible for child support payments up until the time that the adoption actually takes place.
This final step of the process is usually a joyful one. The custodial parent, the adopting stepparent, and the child(ren) appear in court before a judge. The judge will ask the child a few questions to confirm their understanding of what is happening and that they would like to be adopted. The parents will be asked if they are willing to carry out the duties of caring for the child(ren). Once all of these details are confirmed, the judge will finalize the adoption.
The certificate of adoption is signed. With that, the stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child, along with the biological parent to whom they are married. Usually, there is time for congratulations and photos to commemorate the day.
A New Name
From that point on, it’s legally as if the child had been born to them both. In fact, the child will be issued a new birth certificate on which the adoptive parent is named as if they had been there all along. The child will also receive a new social security card with their new name. These documents, of course, must be requested by the parents.
Do you have questions about stepparent adoption? We can answer them and help you through the process, no matter the circumstances. Contact us today.