Stepparent adoptions are often initiated by a little voice asking, “Why is my last name different?” Stepparent adoptions leave intact the rights of the legal parent caretaker. They seek for this parents’ spouse to adopt the child so they can enjoy all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent. Like other adoptions, the rights of all other biological or legal parents and guardians must be terminated before the adoption can be finalized. Often the Petition also incorporates a request that the child’s last name be changed.
The Court is empowered to waive many of the typical legal requirements for stepparent adoptions such as the home study and six-month waiting period. Waiving these requirements is a judicial determination, and some Courts have made a policy decision to require home studies in all stepparent adoptions. Other Courts will only require home studies in specific circumstances, such as if the couple has been married for only a short period.
Judges will also explain that upon adoption, the stepparent becomes a legal parent. Therefore, in the event of divorce, both parents have all the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent, including custody and child support obligations, as well as rights to make medical and educational decisions, access to confidential records, and inheritance.
The birth parent may consent to a stepparent adoption by joining the Petition. They do not have to appear in Court, but they do have to sign the Petition and submit a notarized affidavit forfeiting their parental rights. Often these are situations in which the biological parent has not been involved in the child’s life, and welcomes the relief of child support obligations. Other times, the biological parent feels that the child has been kept away from them despite their best efforts at building a relationship. Contested TPR hearings can be lengthy, stressful, and expensive to litigate.
If the child is 14 years old or older, the child must consent to the adoption. Your attorney will prepare an affidavit for the child’s signature and the Judge will meet privately with the child to ensure they understand the adoption and agree to it.
As with all adoptions, any money paid in connection with the adoption must be disclosed. This includes attorney’s fees, home study fees, and even court costs and birth certificate fees.