Stepparent Adoption: How to Start the Process

Learn the laws, costs and forms you'll need when it comes to adopting a stepchild.

family holding hands
Photo: George Rudy/Shutterstock

The most common form of adoption is adoption of children by stepparents whereby the adopting stepparent is willing to assume financial and legal responsibility for his/her spouse's child or children and to release their noncustodial parent of parental responsibilities, including child support. Here's everything you need to know:

State Laws

Most states have a streamlined adoption process for adoptions by stepparents whereby the judge hearing the adoption petition has the ability to dispense with the requirement in state adoption laws for an adoption home study. Some states, however, will not approve a stepparent adoption unless the custodial parent has been married to the stepparent for one year or longer.

RELATED: The Cost of Adoption

Required Consent

When a stepparent wishes to adopt a stepchild, the child's parents (the stepparent's spouse and the noncustodial or absent parent) are usually both required to consent to that adoption. In consenting to an adoption, the noncustodial parent relinquishes all parental rights and responsibilities, including child support. If the noncustodial parent objects to the proposed adoption and refuses to consent to it, state laws may prevent the adoption from proceeding.

Some states specify in state adoption laws, special circumstances under which the noncustodial parent's consent is not required. Other states have made special provisions in their adoption laws to allow stepparent adoptions to occur, even over the objections of the noncustodial parent in cases where the noncustodial parent has failed to maintain communication with the child for a specified period of time.

RELATED: Kids for Adoption: Facts and Statistics

The Stepparent Adoption Process

1. Check out your state adoption laws.

Nothing can replace the qualified legal advice of an adoption attorney admitted to the Bar in your state. Adoption attorneys will know the relevant state adoption laws and will be able to research case law decisions in your state, which may have established legal precedents applicable in your situation.

2. Contact the court in your county that handles adoptions.

In some states adoptions are handled in juvenile court, in other states the Family Court or Surrogacy Court handles adoptions. Ask to speak to the court clerk or other employee who can provide information about stepparent adoptions. May courts have an information packet, which will be mailed to you.

3. Obtain required legal forms.

Many states have designated certain publishing companies to stock and sell to the public legal forms for court procedures. Your attorney will take care of this for you as part of his legal representation services.

4. Submit required legal paperwork.

This will be handled by the attorney representing you at the adoption hearing.

5. Await notification of a court hearing date.

A hearing date is assigned in consultation with the judge's (or magistrate's) schedule, your attorney's schedule and the court calendar. You may be notified of the hearing date by mail or by your attorney. You usually are required to attend this hearing.

6. Appear at the hearing.

Court hearings are held to allow the judge or magistrate hearing the case to question the parties involved. Your attorney will advise you about how adoption hearings are conducted in a particular court. At the end of the hearing, the judge or magistrate will set a date for the finalization of the adoption. Your attorney will advise you whether or not you will be required to attend this hearing.

RELATED: Adopting an Older Child

7. Finalize the adoption.

Adoption certificates are issued at this hearing. You may wish to request additional copies of this legal document for your files.

8. Apply for amended birth certificates.

After the adoption is finalized, you can apply for amended birth certificates to be issued.

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