The decision to adopt your stepchild is likely something that has been in the back of your mind since the beginning of your relationship with the child’s parent. Now that you and the child’s parent are married, it may seem the next logical step is to begin the adoption process.
Adopting your stepchild can be beneficial for you and the child. Not only does it allow you to legally make decisions for the child’s best interests, such as those decisions regarding the child’s medical, educational and spiritual well-being, but it also allows the child the rights of inheritance from your estate as his or her legal parent.
Terminating parental rights
The process of adopting your stepchild is not much different from adopting a child who is not related to your spouse. However, the first step may be the most difficult, depending on your situation. Before you can proceed with adopting your stepchild, you must obtain consent from the child’s biological parents. It may not be so difficult to get your spouse to consent, but the child’s non-custodial parent may be unwilling to terminate his or her parental rights and allow you to adopt.
Even if the other parent refuses consent for the adoption, the court may find reason to involuntarily revoke the rights of the other parent if the following conditions apply:
- You cannot locate the other parent.
- The other parent has had no meaningful communication with the child for a year or more.
- The other parent has failed to make court ordered child support payments.
If none of these factors exist and the noncustodial parent refuses to consent to the adoption, you cannot proceed, and the court will not allow you to adopt your stepchild.
Consent and adoption
If the court determines that the actions of the noncustodial parent warrant the termination of his or her parental rights, the path is clear for you to file the appropriate paperwork to begin the adoption process. Along with the legal application, you will submit your marriage license, the child’s birth certificate, written consent from the biological parent and consent from the child if he or she is 14 or older.
A judge may request a home study as is common in adoptions of non-stepchildren. However, the letters of consent may be sufficient to convince the judge the home is a loving and nurturing environment for the child. You, along with your spouse and the stepchild, will attend several court hearings before receiving the certification of the adoption and legal parental rights.
The laws for stepparent adoption vary from state to state, so it is important that you understand what the laws in Georgia expect of you. You can obtain answers to your questions and guidance throughout the process from a legal professional who has experience in family law and the adoption process.