What to Expect When You Want to Adopt a Stepchild
Did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of adopted stepchildren in the United States? Adopting a stepchild is fairly common, and there is a specific legal process in place for it. If you are ready to adopt your stepchild, all you need to do is follow these steps.
Make Sure You Meet the Requirements
First of all, it is a good idea to meet with a Pennsylvania or New Jersey adoption attorney to ensure you meet all requirements to be an adoptive parent. For example, if the adoption is to take place in New Jersey, you must:
• Be at least 18 years of age
• Be at least 10 years older than the child
Most importantly, the adoption must be in the best interest of the child. This can mean that the child might have to consent to the adoption or that you have to show you can support the child.
Get the Consent Of the Custodial Parent
In most cases, this step is fairly simple. The custodial parent will need to give their consent for you to adopt their child. This typically just means they will need to sign a form. However, if you have divorced the custodial parent but still want to adopt your former stepchild, things can be more complex. In this case, you would need to get the custodial parent’s rights terminated along with the noncustodial parent’s rights.
Terminate the Noncustodial Parent’s Rights
Most states will not allow you to adopt your stepchild if they have another legal parent that is still in the picture. The only way to adopt the child is if you can terminate the rights of the noncustodial parent. In cases where you have contact with the parent and they agree to sign over their rights, you will just need to fill out some standard documents.
When the parent will not voluntarily surrender their rights, your New Jersey adoption attorney will need to show the court that the noncustodial parent meets one of these criteria:
• Does not fulfill parental responsibilities like paying child support and contacting the child
• Has neglected the child’s needs
• Has physically, mentally, or sexually abused the child or other children in their household
• Is not actually the biological father of the child
• Has abandoned the child
• Cannot be found
• Has a long-term substance use problem or other mental illness that will hinder their ability to care for the child
File a Petition for Adoption
Once you have gathered all your documentation that you meet adoption requirements, your attorney just needs to formally inform the court that you want to adopt the child by filing a petition. This tells the court about your situation and shows proof that the custodial parent consents to the adoption. After the court reviews your case, it will schedule a date for a hearing. In many cases, this hearing is a mere formality. However, you will still need to be fully prepared.
Finalize the Adoption at the Adoption Hearing
At your hearing, your lawyer will need to provide all relevant legal documents, and you will need to explain why it is in the best interest of the child to be adopted. Once the court approves the adoption, you are formally your stepchild’s parent. You will have full parental rights, and you will get a birth certificate that lists you as one of their parents.
Ultimately, the stepchild adoption process does not have to be too confusing or stressful. There are all sorts of legal steps you need to follow, though, so it is a good idea to have an adoption attorney on your side. As an experienced family law firm in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Cofsky & Zeidman provides representation you can count on. Call our team at 856-429-5005 or email us to schedule a consultation.