Your Guide to Adopting Your Stepchild
If you’re one of the 30 million Americans who are a stepparent, you probably have a very strong relationship with your stepchild. In some cases, stepparents may want to formalize this relationship by adopting their stepchild. Understanding how stepchild adoption works can help you decide whether it is right for your family.
Benefits of Adopting Your Stepchild
There are many advantages to adopting your stepchild. First of all, it makes you one of their legal guardians. You can do things like picking them up from school or accessing their medical records without requiring authorization from your spouse.
Even more importantly, stepparent adoption ensures you can stay in the child’s life if something goes wrong. You’ll still have custodial rights if you divorce your spouse. In the unfortunate event of your spouse dying, adoption ensures your child can stay with you instead of ending up with biological family members or foster parents.
Finally, stepchild adoption has a lot of emotional benefits for you and the child. It’s a great way to reassure an anxious child and show you’re not going anywhere. Being legally adopted helps to confirm that you see your stepchild as one of your children.
Can You Adopt if the Biological Parent Is Still Alive?
A common misconception is that stepparent adoption is only allowed when the other biological parent has passed away. This isn’t necessarily true. New Jersey adoption laws simply require you to terminate the other parent’s rights before proceeding with the adoption.
There are a few ways to go about this. The easiest option is simply having the biological parent sign away their rights. If the biological parent doesn’t consent, you can move to have their rights terminated. Typically, you will need to show the court that the biological parent isn’t fulfilling basic parental responsibilities. You can get a termination if the biological parent has abandoned the child or if they have been abusive or neglectful.
Is Stepparent Adoption Easier or Harder Than Regular Adoption?
Other than the hassle of having to deal with a nonconsenting biological parent, stepparent adoption is fairly straightforward. Unlike other forms of adoption, you are usually already caring for the child, and the child will also typically be living with one of their other legal parents. Therefore, the state has fewer tests you have to pass.
You do not have to undergo a lot of parental training courses or have your house pass a rigorous inspection. You also don’t have to meet financial requirements or pay agency fees. This makes the whole adoption process a lot easier. Instead of having to deal with months of waiting and tests, adoption mostly just consists of filling out some standard paperwork with a New Jersey adoption lawyer and submitting it in court.
Understanding the Steps of Stepparent Adoption
When you’re adopting a stepchild in New Jersey, the whole process is fairly quick. In most cases, adoptions are finalized within a couple of months. The first step in the process is terminating parental rights. Depending on your situation, this might just require signing a few documents, or it might involve getting a New Jersey adoption lawyer to arrange a court hearing.
The next step is passing a background check. The stepparent will need to submit themselves to an official check from the state’s Division of Child Protection. Having a criminal past won’t necessarily disqualify you. You’ll only fail the check if it reveals you have a history of harming children or otherwise behaving in a way that shows you’re unfit to be a parent.
Finally, your adoption attorney will help you schedule an adoption hearing with the court. You’ll visit the court to formally petition to adopt the child. If the child is over 10, they’ll need to be present and verbally consent. Once the court approves your case, the adoption will be finalized.
If you’re considering a stepchild adoption, Cofsky & Zeidman can help. We provide family law services to people throughout Haddonfield, Woodbury, and surrounding areas. Call 856-429-5005 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.