When a step-parent seeks to adopt the child of his or her spouse, this is referred to as a “step-parent adoption,” and it involves a different legal process than a traditional adoption. The good news for step-parents is that often step-parent adoptions are easier and faster than traditional, non-relative adoptions. Oftentimes the court dispenses with the agency home study, which is a great financial savings. This is particularly true when the other parent is deceased, unknown, or had his or her parental rights terminated by a juvenile court proceeding.
In some cases the parent without custody may be willing to terminate his or her parental rights and consent to the adoption of his or her biological child for a variety of reasons: financial, emotional or to allow the child to live in a two parent family. Once a child is adopted, the parent consenting will owe no further child support under the law, but will no longer be considered the parent of the child.
If consent cannot be obtained, then the road ahead is uphill.
If the non-custodial parent has, for at least six months immediately prior to the filing of the petition for adoption, willfully, substantially and continuously abandoned the child or neglected to provide the child with necessary care and protection, the court may grant such an adoption without the consent of this parent; but only after a trial for which the non-custodial parent has reasonable notice and the opportunity to be heard.
If the child is under one year of age, the standard is different. In that case, if the non-custodial parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least 60 days immediately prior to the filing of the Petition, then the Court may also grant such an adoption with consent of the non-custodial parent, after a hearing.
In both cases, a Guardian ad Litem, an attorney, is appointed to represent the best interests of the child and the Court must find that such step-parent adoption is in the best interests of the child after a hearing.
In any case, it is best to navigate the step-parent adoption process with an experienced adoption attorney who can help anticipate any issues that might arise. Strategic legal planning prior to approaching the other birth parent will be critical to getting a good result in this matter. There are very specific statutory requirements that must be met. Knowledge of both adoption law and local court rules and procedures will be helpful in pursuing this action.