Stepparent Adoption

One of the happiest days as a family law attorney is adoption day. As a family law attorney, there are few things more satisfying than assisting a family with an adoption. You do not need to be a biological parent to be a child’s parent. Oftentimes, the stepparent adoption is just “procedural” and the final step in becoming your child’s legal parent, as you have already been caring for the child as your own.

Adopting a stepchild is very different than adopting a child through an agency or a private adoption. In order for you to adopt a stepchild, you must be married to the biological parent of the child and the non-custodial parent’s rights must have been terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Termination of Parental Rights

In order for a non-custodial biological parent to voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights so a stepparent can adopt the child, the non-custodial parent must sign a consent form that legally relinquishes his or her parental rights and must agree for the stepparent to adopt the child.

A non-custodial biological parent’s rights may also be involuntarily terminated. This may happen by court order if the non-custodial parent cannot be located or the parent’s rights may be terminated for the following reasons:

  • A conviction for abuse, abandonment, neglect of or cruelty to a child;
  • A court finds that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child; or
  • Failure to comply with the recommendations of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS).

The Adoption Process

If a non-custodial biological parent’s rights are terminated, he or she no longer has the right to custody or parenting time with that child. This allows the stepparent to apply to the court to adopt their stepchild. Once the adoption is finalized, the custodial parent loses the ability to collect child support or reimbursement of expenses from the non-custodial parent.

Once a biological parent’s rights have been terminated, a stepparent must undergo a background check as part of the adoption process. This background check is conducted by an adoption agency, and includes a criminal history, Division of Child Protection and Permanency check, and domestic violence check. The background check is conducted to ensure that the adopting parent has not been convicted of a crime against a child and is not unfit to be a parent.

After the background check is complete, the court schedules an adoption hearing. If the child being adopted is over ten years old, he or she must be present during the hearing. If the child is under ten, it is the parent’s choice as to whether the child is present.

Once the adoption hearing is complete, the stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child and enjoys the same relationship, duties, and obligations as if the child were born as that parent’s biological child. This includes rights of intestacy; the child and parent are eligible to inherit from one another under the law if there is no estate plan in place stating otherwise.

Our attorneys are well-versed in stepparent adoptions and enjoy helping families complete their stepparent adoption process.

For assistance with adopting your stepchild, we invite you to contact Family Focused Legal Solutions online or schedule an initial consultation by calling us at 973-993-9960. Our firm serves the greater part of North and Central Jersey including but not limited to Morris County, Somerset County, Bergen County, and Sussex County. All communications are strictly confidential.