Perhaps you have already opened your heart to your significant other's child, and you are ready to take the next step. A stepparent adoption can be a way to cement your relationship with your partner's child, simplify the dynamics of the family, and offer substantial benefits to you and your child.
As a stepparent of a legally adopted child, you will have much more control and influence over the child's life, as well as increased responsibilities. Your adopted stepchild is also legally eligible to inherit from your estate.
Stepparent adoptions, like many legal processes, are multi-step events that involve people from various professional fields. The parents, the child, the court system, lawyers, social workers -- everyone plays their part in the adoption process. Stepparent adoption is like regular adoption, but it does have significant differences. Knowing what to expect before starting the adoption process may help you feel more confident that you are adopting your stepchild the right way.
Know the adoption laws in your state
The rules governing stepparent adoptions vary from state to state. The first place to research stepparent adoption will be at the county courthouse. Often, the county courthouse will have informational packets available for those who inquire about stepparent adoption guidelines. Otherwise, a consult with an attorney can be a helpful place to start.
Get the consent of both parents
For you to be able to adopt your stepchild legally, you will need the consent of both the custodial and the noncustodial parent. If the non-custodial parent refuses to consent to the adoption, you may find yourself facing a battle for adoption. In some circumstances, if you can prove that the child has been abandoned or mistreated at the hands of the noncustodial parent, a court will grant the adoption without the objecting parent's consent.
File the correct paperwork
After you have researched your state laws regarding stepparent adoption and gotten consent from both parents, then it is time to file paperwork. Make sure you notice important details such as whether you can represent yourself during the proceedings or whether you will need a family law attorney, and take note of timelines for document submissions. Go to the courthouse to get the required paperwork and to ensure you are filling it out correctly and sending to the right offices.
Meet with a social worker
Some states require a home visit from a social worker to determine whether the home is suitable for children. This step is often waived in stepparent adoption cases since one of the biological parents will live with the child, but not always. A social worker will evaluate the home on several factors including the parent's ability to maintain a safe, stable place for the child to live.
Go to a court hearing
The adoption case will be held in court. You will likely receive a notice of this in the mail, or your state may waive hearings in cases of stepparent adoptions. During the hearing, the judge will inquire about all of the details of the adoption case.
Change the birth certificate
Once the adoption is final in the court system, it is important to have the birth certificate changed to reflect the new parents. An official birth record may be needed some day for inheritance purposes. Check with your local office of vital records.
Bringing your stepchild officially into the family can be exciting and rewarding. Don't let jumping through the legal hoops become too daunting and discourage you from taking the next step. A New Hampshire family law attorney can guide you and answer any questions you may have about stepparent adoption.