If you’ve married and are looking to have your new spouse adopt your child from a prior relationship, this post will give you a better idea of what to expect during the step-parent adoption process.
In every adoption, parental rights of a mother and father are terminated and replaced with new parental rights. Because of this, the biological parent who is remaining the parent and the step-parent who is gaining parental rights are both petitioners in the adoption. In other words, we are asking the court to remove parental rights for two biological parents and replace them with one biological parent and one step-parent.
In every adoption, the parent whose rights we are terminating must be given notice. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been in the picture for years (or ever), you must let them know that the other parent is asking that their rights be terminated.
When we are terminating a male parent’s rights, that person may be considered a legal father or a putative father. A legal father is a parent whose rights have been established by the signing of a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (or being listed on the birth certificate) or by a court determination, such as during a divorce proceeding. In an adoption, if there is a legal father, that is the only male parent who is entitled to notice.
If there is not a legal father, then there must be a putative father (unless the child was the result of a criminal act against the mother). A putative father is identified as someone who may be the father. A search of the Putative Father Registry must be done by your attorney. In addition, notice must be published in a newspaper to the “unknown father”. Although someone may be entitled to notice, that does not always mean they can contest an adoption.
Termination of Parental Rights
Parental Rights may be terminated by consent, surrender or waiver – these are all a type of document that can be signed by the parent agreeing to have their parental rights terminated. Alternatively, the court can terminate rights based on Unfitness. There are numerous grounds for Unfitness, but abandonment, desertion, and failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for the welfare of the child are the most common.
If a legal parent contests the adoption, there may be a trial regarding unfitness and best interests of the minor. Legal parents who cannot afford an attorney are also entitled to appointed counsel.
Investigation and Judgment
In addition to termination of parental rights, the Court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (the GAL is an attorney who represents the child and investigates). The step-parent will have to go through a fingerprint background check that reveals any criminal history, including arrests. Anyone 14 and older must consent to a Child Abuse and Neglect background search. The GAL will review these results and speak with the adoptive parents.
Once parental rights are terminated and the GAL conducts their investigation, the Court can enter a Judgment making the Biological and Step-parent the legal parents of the minor, and a new birth certificate is issued. The issuance of a new birth certificate makes it as if the child was born to these two parents from the very beginning and the original birth certificate is confidential.
Step-parent adoptions are very common and are generally simple. However, the notice requirement to the legal parent or putative father can sometimes cause complications and extend the process. If you are thinking about having your spouse adopt your child from a prior relationship, we’d love to discuss your situation and how Family Forward Law, LLC can help!