A Guide to Stepparent Adoption

Parenting is never easy. Both parents need to ensure that their children are healthy, educated and know that they will be loved and cared for. Unfortunately, not every child in America can say that all of those elements are a part of their everyday life.

Over a quarter of a million children are placed in foster care in the United States every year. Some foster care facilities are top-notch, while others barely meet federal or state minimum requirements. There are also children who remain in the foster care system until they become adults.

Adoption is one way to provide a better life for a child in need. Children are adopted by non-birth parents and stepparents daily. The overall goal of adoption is to provide children with a stable environment and more opportunities to succeed.

Why Would Stepparents Want to Adopt a Child?

If a mother or father decides to divorce and later remarry, their new partner may opt to adopt their stepchildren. This can be especially true in instances where a parent has abused or neglected a child or if one parent has passed away. It’s one way of establishing family after the new union.

A stepparent will often want to provide the same security and consistency as their birth parents. Children may have a difficult time adjusting after divorce and remarriage. Having a stepparent who loves them just as much as if they were their own biological child is important. A parental figure who shows genuine concern, caring and empathy can make the changes much easier to accept.

How Can Stepparents Adopt a Child?

In the state of Maryland, a child can be legally adopted by a stepparent if they have the permission of that child’s biological parents. Both biological parents must consent. This rule may be waived if a birth parent has abandoned their child for 12 months or more.

Consent is not required in cases of neglect, imprisonment or if one or both parents have been found to be unfit or mentally incapable of taking care of their children. If the child in question is 14 years of age or older, they will need to give written consent for the adoption. They must also make it known that they understand that the birth parent who has surrendered their parental rights can legally no longer be involved in that child’s life.

The child will then go through the process of being formally adopted by their stepparent. The biological non-custodial parent’s rights will be effectively terminated once that process has been completed. Any prior child visitation schedules that were established will no longer apply. That parent will not be expected to financially support the child in any way.

It can take a while for the adoption to be finalized. Adoption is also final. A stepparent can’t suddenly change their mind after a matter of weeks, months or years. If the stepparent decides to divorce from the child’s birth mother, they will still be considered a legal parent for that child.

What are the Steps for Adoption?

The stepparent will start by filing an adoption petition with the respective court in their area. The non-custodial biological parent’s consent or agreement to end their parental rights must also be acquired. All adoption paperwork must then be given to the court.

You don’t need to have a lawyer represent you, but you can enlist the services of legal counsel if you wish. Many experts recommend having a good attorney at your side, especially if the adoption will be contested or if other issues or complications should arise. We can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

A finalization hearing will be scheduled. The judge overseeing the proceedings will determine whether or not to grant the adoption request. If approved, the stepparent will then be given parental rights for the child as needed. Stepparents can apply for a change of last name and/or a new birth certificate for that child if they want to show that they are officially recognized as the child’s parent.

Can I Contest a Stepchild Adoption?

Birth parents can contest the adoption request. They will need to file an objection with the court in a timely manner. The judge may specify how long the non-custodial birth parent has to contest the objection.

Documents and any evidence that can contribute to the case should be filed as soon as possible. Another hearing will be scheduled for that parent to plead their case. The judge will review all information from both sides before deciding whether to reverse the adoption ruling.

Adoptions may be rescinded in certain circumstances, including stepparent adoptions. However, a birth parent must provide evidence that can either confirm that they have taken significant steps toward improving their parenting skills or verify that the stepparent who has asked for the adoption is incapable of caring for a child or could potentially be an unfit parent.

Custody lawyers can assist in those instances. They should have a thorough understanding and knowledge of parental rights and laws. A custody lawyer can also guide stepparents through the adoption process so that they know what must be done and what they can reasonably expect.

The prospect of becoming a stepparent can be intimidating. They may start to wonder if the child or children will like them or if they have anything in common. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that can help. Adoption support groups, parenting groups and family counselors are just a few organizations that stepparents can turn to. These and many other options are readily available and are comprised of people who are willing to answer questions and give advice.

Being a great stepparent won't happen overnight. It's going to take time to build relationships with your partner's children. That's perfectly okay. They will need to get to know and trust you as well. Becoming a stepparent is one way to make the family transition easier. It's a lifelong commitment, one that most adults are more than willing to accept.

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