When you married someone who already had a child (or children), you knew it would be complicated to enter a family that already had its own structure, routine and dynamic. However, as much as you love your new spouse, you also love the children, and you may be giving some thought to taking the necessary legal steps to adopt them as your own.
The adoption process for stepchildren is similar to that of traditional adoption with a few exceptions. You will have obstacles to overcome. However, with legal guidance, you may have a better chance of reaching your goals.
Even if your family feels complete and solid, there are important reasons to consider adopting your stepchild or stepchildren, including the following:
- Your stepchildren have no automatic right to your estate, insurance or other financial benefits unless you adopt them.
- You may have limited rights to make critical decisions for your stepchildren, such as in medical emergencies.
- If something should happen to your spouse, you may have no claim to custody of the children without adoption.
Adopting your stepchildren may also offer a sense of completion and stability to your family and to the child or children.
Perhaps the easiest obstacle to overcome is gaining the approval of your spouse and the child in question. Depending on their age, the court may require them to consent to the adoption. However, obtaining consent from the other biological parent may not be so easy. If the parent is active and involved in the child’s life, he or she may be unwilling to relinquish parental rights to you. However, if the parent is not involved with the child, the court may consider involuntarily terminating parental rights.
This is not common, however, and you should understand that courts do not readily end a parent’s right without good reason. Once you have obtained consent, you may petition for adoption. This process may involve an evaluation of your home, a hearing before a judge and an interview with the child, among other steps. If this process makes you nervous, you may find peace of mind by consulting an attorney who can assist you.