If you married a partner with minor children, you no doubt went into the marriage understanding that you were making a commitment to the kids as well as to your significant other. Being a stepparent is both rewarding and challenging. Often, one of the most significant challenges is cementing the bond between yourself and your stepchildren.
The fact that you married into the family confers a parental role and some informal authority over decisions regarding the children. To gain legal parental status, though, you’ll need to formally adopt your stepchildren. Below is some important information about that process.
Adopting Means Assuming the Other Parent’s Parental Rights
By adopting your stepchildren, you will be granted the parental rights of their other biological parent. This can be tricky. You either need to get permission from the other parent (which would require him or her to cede their own parental rights) or you and your spouse need to petition the court to terminate the other parent’s rights. Grounds for termination include abandonment or being an unfit parent.
If the other parent is not in the picture or has no relationship with the children, this process will be easier than if there is some involvement or considerable involvement. If you have concerns about this aspect of the process, it’s a good idea to share them with your attorney early on.
Stepparent Adoption Often Less Bureaucratic than Other Kinds
When seeking to adopt through an agency or through the foster system, would-be adoptive parents must meet many stringent requirements including home visits, background checks, etc. As a stepparent, you are already married to one of the children’s legal parents, which means that the children’s day-to-day lives would not really be very different post-adoption. As such, courts often waive home visits and other requirements. While this part of the process is easier than with most other adoptions, you do have the added burden of obtaining parental consent or terminating the other parent’s rights.
Same-sex Stepparent Adoptions
Marriage equality is the law of the land. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down bans on same-sex marriage also granted same-sex married couples the same rights as opposite-sex married couples. That includes the right to adopt your spouse’s children (assuming you can meet the requirements mentioned above).
The Process Is Much Easier with the Help of a Good Lawyer
Adoptions fall under the category of family law, but not all family law attorneys are equally qualified in this area. Make sure you choose an attorney with adoption knowledge and experience, as well as passion for helping clients formalize their already-strong family relationships.