Adoption of a step-child by a step-dad is possible and common. Adoption laws differ from State to State and country to country, but generally, the consent of the non-custodial parent is required before a legal adoption can take place via a court order after a legal process.
Step-families usually function together quite happily, with step-parents taking responsibility for their spouse’s children, but sometimes step-parents and children want to formalize the relationship. Adoption is a legal process whereby a parent takes on legal and financial responsibility for a child.
But does adoption apply to step-parents?
Adoption by step-parents is the most common form of adoption, where the adopting step-parent takes responsibility for their spouse’s children, creating a new blended family. Adopting a step-child is a legal process which means that a lawyer will be involved, and you will have to appear in court. But it is streamlined and straightforward, especially when the non-custodial parent is absent.
What does adoption mean?
Adoption is a legal process with various implications for the person adopting and the person being adopted, as well as the non-custodial parent. However, it is a public statement of an emotional bond, of the love between the step-parent and step-child.
Remember that the process of adoption is not a magic wand that will instantly create a happy family: blended families have the same challenges as all families, and adaptation will be needed before everyone settles down. However, families created via adoption are as happy as any other families, with lots of love for each other.
What adoption means for the step-parent and step-child
If your step-dad adopts you, it means that he becomes your legal parent and is fully responsible for you with equal rights to your custodial parent (the parent he’s married to). He will be able to make medical decisions for you, and you can benefit from his social security and insurance. He can give you his last name, and you will be able to inherit assets along with other children he may have.
Adoption also means that the step-parent still has legal and financial obligations towards the adopted child if there is a divorce.
What adoption means for the non-custodial parent
Once you have been adopted by your step-dad, your non-custodial (the absent biological or legal) parent (and their family) no longer has any rights or responsibilities towards you, including child support and visitation rights.
This loss of rights is because a child can only have two, not three, parents. It also means you can no longer inherit from your non-custodial parent unless you are specifically named in the will.
Which laws govern adoption?
Adoption is governed by State law in the United States and by national law elsewhere in the world. Usually, adoption by a step-parent is easier than other forms of adoption with streamlined processes, and a lawyer may not be required.
What does the law require for your step-dad to adopt you?
For your step-dad to adopt you, he must be married to the parent who has custody of you, he must be over 18, and he must be older than you.
Adopting adults is legal in most countries, so your step-dad can adopt you even if you are over 18.
However, depending on which State or country you live in, the law may also require the following before your step-dad can adopt you:
- marriage to your custodial parent for at least one year
- a home study or social assessment, where a social worker determines that your home is a safe place for you to live
- a criminal background check
- a period of counseling for the family
- consent from the non-custodial parent
- consent from the child being adopted.
If some or all of these requirements are not met, the adoption can be revoked or overturned.
Who must consent to the adoption?
Consent for the adoption must be received from both parents as well as from the child being adopted. The step-parent must also indicate that they want to adopt the child.
Depending on your State’s laws, this consent may either be given in written form or may need to be given in the presence of a judge in a courtroom.
Consent from the parents
For your step-dad to adopt you, you need to receive consent from your custodial parent (who is married to your step-dad) and non-custodial parent. Without parental consent, it is unlikely that the adoption can proceed – the rights of the biological parent supersede the rights of a step-parent.
If the non-custodial parent is part of the child’s life, it can be hard to get this consent as it will mean they lose the rights to that child. However, there are cases of adoption going forward where it can be proven that the absent parent has failed or been unable to maintain communication with the child for an extended period or that contact with the legal parent is harmful to the child.
Suppose the non-custodial parent has never been involved. In that case, abandonment can be proven, and consent can be achieved if the parent has been allowed to oppose the adoption and failed to respond with a given time. Usually, notices will be put in newspapers to try to reach the parent. The court will need to show that it has acted in good faith.
Sometimes this consent will be accompanied by a statement of termination of parental rights, which legally severs the bond between the parent and child.
Consent from the child
If you are over the age of 10, or 12 or 14, depending on the law in your State, you will also need to consent to be adopted by your step-dad.
Steps to take for the adoption process
For your step-dad to adopt you, certain steps need to be followed. If a lawyer is involved, there will also be legal fees to pay, including filing the adoption papers at the court.
1. Check out the relevant laws on adoption
If possible, it is best to consult an adoption lawyer who can advise your family on the relevant State or national laws around adoption and how they apply to you and your situation. This will require legal fees, although some States do waive the costs involved in a step-parent adoption.
2. Contact the county adoption court
Your family or your lawyer needs to find out which court handles adoption (e.g., the juvenile court) and the requirements of that court (e.g., whether you need a lawyer to appear before the court).
3. Find and submit the legal forms
There are usually legal forms to fill in so that an adoption petition can be filed. Your lawyer will give these forms to you. These forms will require information such as:
- the child’s name and whether this name will change after adoption
- the child’s birth date and place of birth
- the step-parent’s details
- details of the mother’s and step-parent’s marriage.
Examples of documents you will need to submit are:
- birth certificate
- marriage license
- copy of non-custodial parent’s consent to the adoption and/or termination of or relinquishing of parental rights.
4. Attend the preliminary hearing
A preliminary hearing is a court hearing that will occur a few weeks or months after your lawyer has submitted all the relevant paperwork. Your family will have to attend the hearing, where the judge or magistrate will ask questions of everyone involved, including requests for consent to the adoption. If the process runs smoothly, the court will then set a date for the adoption to be finalized,
Sometimes, if the paperwork is straightforward, there is no preliminary hearing, and the adoption date will be set immediately.
5. Receive the Adoption Order
Depending on the process, before the adoption can occur, the judge will require a certain number of visits by a social worker to make sure that the family is adjusting well to the adoption.
A final adoption hearing is scheduled where an Adoption Order or Adoption Certificate is issued. This is a legal document that shows that the adoption has taken place and that the step-parent is now the adoptive, legal parent. Any name changes will be reflected in this document.
6. Apply for a new birth certificate
Once you have the Adoption Order, you can apply for a new birth certificate, showing the name changes and indicating the step-parent as the parent on the birth certificate.
Your step-dad can adopt you, so long as you can get the consent of your absent or non-custodial parent and your family can fulfill the other legal requirements of adoption. Adoption is a special bond and way of creating a new blended family.