Legal Services

What to Expect When Adopting Your Stepchild

Published November 20, 2020

Adoption Day is often one of the biggest moments in a family’s life. Children gain a new brother, sister, mom, and dad, and parents another son or daughter to love. Adoption Day should fall nothing short of perfect, which is why we’ve highlighted some of the most common issues you may encounter when starting a new family and how to mitigate them early on in the adoption process.

First of all, it is important to understand the difference between an uncontested adoption and a contested adoption. In an uncontested adoption, the birthparent, or parents, cooperate in the adoption process and give consent to relinquish the child to a new family by signing select legal documents. A contested adoption, however, is more complicated. An adoption is considered contested if one parent agrees to place a child up for adoption, but the other objects. There are a number of ways to remedy a contested adoption, sometimes with or without an attorney.

In terms of uncontested adoptions, the process terminates parental rights of one party and grants parental rights to another. This is very common in Stepparent Adoption; the noncustodial parent (the one not living with the child) gives up all rights and responsibilities to the child, including child support, and passes them onto the stepparent seeking adoption. Seamless, right? It may appear that way, but there are a number of roadblocks you should anticipate encountering during the process:

Roadblock #1: Criminal Background Check & Home Study

Not all states require stepparents to undergo a home study and/or a criminal background check during the uncontested adoption process, but it is a possibility. Prepare as if both may occur.

Roadblock #2: Time Requirements

Unfortunately, adoption doesn’t happen overnight. Review your state’s laws surrounding stepparent adoption to find out how long the process will take. Certain states require that a stepparent be married to the child’s custodial parent and live with the child for one year prior to starting the adoption process. Others process stepparent, or second parent, adoptions much faster than other forms.

Roadblock #3: Child Consent

Typically in uncontested adoptions, a child between the ages of 10 and 14 has a say in the matter. Some states will confirm or deny adoption based on whether the child consents to being adopted by the stepparent.

Roadblock #4: Means of Consent

Adopting your stepchild, even if he or she has been a part of your life for quite some time, is no small feat. It is handled seriously by judges and state child welfare services. Noncustodial parents can consent to adoption of their biological child in a number of ways, many of which vary by state. Some states require that the noncustodial parent appear in court or seek counseling to understand the details of their decision, while others will accept a written statement.

In abandonment situations, such as when the biological parent refuses to pay child support or cuts off communication, a stepparent may be able to adopt without consent.

Roadblock #5: Money

The cost of adoption is less of a surprise and more of an expected hurdle in the adoption process. Having a Legal Plan can help reduce the cost of attorney, but court costs and other fees associated with adopting are sure to pile up. Be sure to budget and know the type of legal coverage you can afford.