What Are Some Considerations for Stepparent Adoptions?
It’s not uncommon for a child to be adopted by a stepparent. In fact, this occurs in roughly 5% of stepfamilies, and many more would like for this to happen. Since stepparent adoption is not always easy to accomplish, interested parties should fully understand the process.
Stepparent Adoptions May Be Quicker
In most cases, a stepparent is already heavily involved in the child’s life. Thus, there is less vetting that needs to occur before the court would approve the adoption. It’s not the same as a situation in which strangers are entering a child’s life for the first time. That means the family can skip several steps and get through the process much faster than with other types of adoptions. There may be some checks required, but the normal exhaustive background checks and home studies can either be truncated or skipped in many cases.
Parental Consent Is Generally a Requirement
Usually, the biological parent who would be replaced by the stepparent must consent to the adoption. This permission is often difficult to get if the parent is still around. Many biological parents are understandably not receptive to being replaced.
In most cases, when the biological parent is involved in the child’s life, stepparent adoption will be a rare occurrence. Parents do not like to give up their parental rights and will not freely consent to it. Thus, stepparent consent is not a common occurrence in the regular shared custody scenario. It is simply not possible to have stepparent adoption when the other parent is still in the picture because the law does not allow the child to have three legal parents.
There are some cases in which a biological parent would freely give up their parental rights. If there is stepparent adoption, then the biological parent is relieved of their legal obligation to pay child support. Some parents who no longer want to pay child support and have only a loose connection to the child might consent to an adoption. Of course, in certain limited circumstances, the biological parent may recognize that the stepparent is in a better position to be the legal parent.
Common Circumstances for Stepparent Adoption
The most common scenario that will support a stepparent adoption is when the biological parent is completely out of a child’s life. In these cases, the child has no contact whatsoever with their parent. This is considered abandonment. The combination of no contact with the child for an extended period plus not paying child support can lead to this finding. Note that the failure to pay child support alone is not reason enough for stepparent adoption. Financial issues and parental rights are two different considerations.
In addition, stepparent adoption is generally supported when the biological parent is found unfit. Neglect and abuse are two common behaviors that can persuade a court to take away parental rights. Furthermore, if a parent is incarcerated, this may be grounds for stepparent adoption. For the most part, an adoption is much more likely if the biological parent has been absent for a long period of time.
Courts will take a parent’s rights seriously. They will not disturb them under the usual circumstances. It will take an extraordinary showing to allow a stepparent to move into the role of a parent. Thus, there will likely be an uphill battle for a New Jersey adoption lawyer unless any of the circumstances mentioned above apply.
Notwithstanding the above considerations, the court will usually look at stepparent adoptions with its standard best interests of the child test. Even if the child prefers that their stepparent becomes their legal parent, it does not automatically mean that the court will respect this preference. Instead, the court will look at the totality of the factors to reach the decision.
Getting Legal Assistance During the Process
If you wish to explore the option of stepparent adoption, contact the New Jersey adoption lawyer at Cofsky & Zeidman in Haddonfield at (856) 429-5005 or in Woodbury at (856) 845-2555 today to find out how we can help you.