The Legal Process of Adopting a Stepchild
Stepchild adoption is the most common kind of adoption in the United States, according to statistics, but many people are naturally unfamiliar with the details of the legal process involved in becoming a step-parent. Contrary to popular opinion, if you marry a spouse who already has children, you do not automatically become a step-parent. The child’s other biological parent is still legally responsible for the child legally and financially, though responsibilities may be reduced after the new marriage. A legal adoption will make the responsibilities of parenthood legally change, so that you can strengthen the relationships in your family.
The first step in the adoption process is discussion. Obviously, you can’t adopt without the consent of the parent with whom you are in a relationship. Talk with your spouse about the possibility of adoption to see what he or she thinks of the idea. If your spouse approves of the notion, you will also want to talk to the child, if he or she is of an appropriate age. The child’s agreement with this decision will be very important. Finally, you will have to contact the child’s other biological parent, whom you will be replacing as legal guardian. In some states it is required that you obtain the consent of both parents, even if they are legally separated or divorced, before adoption can proceed.
Adoption laws vary from state to state, so you will need to research your local laws yourself, or hire a qualified attorney to assist you in the process. Your local bar association should be able to furnish a list of reputable local attorneys if needed. Some states, for example, require that you be married to your spouse for at least one year before proceeding with the adoption process. Enlisting the help of an attorney will help you better understand requirements like these, as well things like consent and legal forms.
Get in touch with the court in your locality that handles adoption cases. Depending on your state, this may be a Family Court, Juvenile Court, or some other branch. When you find the right court, contact them to obtain the necessary legal forms for your adoption process. Some courts have the forms available for download from their websites. Once you have completed all of the necessary forms, you can submit them to your attorney, or directly to the court. Complications are common with matters like this, which is one of the reasons it pays to havefamily lawyers on your side. Be patient and follow the requirements of the law.
After your forms have been completed properly and submitted to the court, you will need to wait. After a few weeks, or in some cases a few months, you will receive notification of a court hearing date. After an initial hearing, a judge will set a date for the finalization of the adoption process. Again, an attorney’s help will make sure that you are fully prepared for these hearings. Once the adoption has been approved, an adoption certificate will be issued to you and you will be able to apply for an amended birth certificate that lists you as the child’s parent. This process can take a while, so remember that patience is a virtue and look forward to solidifying your family bonds.