Being a stepparent to a spouse’s child can be one of the most rewarding parts of a person’s life. In many cases, a stepparent develops a bond so strong, they wish to formally adopt that child as their own. Understanding the unique issues involved in stepparent adoptions can help families make an informed decision on what is best for them.
Each family has its own unique reasons for wanting to pursue adoption of a stepchild. Some of the most commons reasons a stepparent may wish to adopt their stepchild include:
To create a stronger family bond in cases of blended families;
To gain authority in making parent decisions, including those related to the child’s education or medical treatment;
To ensure a stepchild receives inheritances from the stepparent;
To allow a stepchild to obtain health benefits;
To provide emotional stability and sense of belonging to the child;
To ensure upon the death of the birth parent that the child will remain with the stepparent.
Severing Links to Birth Parents
The most significant effect of a stepparent adoption is the legal severing of the child from their other parent. While this can be an important way to ensure a child will not be separated from their stepparent in the case of the spouse passing away, the rights of the other birth parent must be considered. Terminating parental rights will result in the noncustodial birth parent forfeiting the power to make decisions for the child, to have established visitation with the child, and the right to communicate with the child. If the non-spousal birth parent waives these rights or otherwise consents to the adoption, the process can be relatively smooth.
In cases where a birth parent refuses to terminate their parental rights, a legal battle over the ability to adopt the child begins. Given the high stakes, the burden of proof in terminating a birth parent’s rights is very high. The best interest of the child is the most important factor used in determining whether to terminate parental rights. Some of the factors considered by courts in this circumstance include: the paternity of the child; the contesting parent’s level of involvement in the child’s life; if the child has been abandoned by the other parent; and if the parent opposing the adoption is mentally and physically fit to parent the child.
Seeking Legal Guidance
Families interested in pursuing a stepparent adoption should consult with a qualified family lawyer experienced with adoption procedures and birth parent rights. Many adoptions that are arranged without the assistance of legal counsel are contested and ultimately may be declared void. Adoption contracts require specific legal language that experienced adoption lawyers will be able to draft in compliance with state laws.
Under Maryland law, the adopting stepparent also must apply for a new birth certificate for the child to amend the name of the child’s parents. This step can be easily handled by an experienced Baltimore County family lawyer.