All too often our office is asked whether a stepparent adoption is the right answer for a family. The answer, as is typical in the law, is that it depends on your case. It is important to first understand the legal effect of a stepparent adoption. A stepparent adoption ultimately bestows the adopting parent with the same legal rights as a biological parent. Given the lasting consequences of this action, the court requires that both of the biological parents must provide consent to the adoption or the parental rights of the non-spouse must be formally terminated. If the biological parent who is losing his or her parental rights refuses to consent or is unable to be located, the stepparent adoption process becomes much more difficult.
A stepparent adoption is not a decision to be made lightly, as it will affect your child for the rest of his or her life. You child’s statutory inheritance rights from his or her biological parents will no longer be the same. Nor will your child be the next of kin for medical purposes with regard to the biological parent whose rights were terminated. These are lifetime consequences that will affect your child even if you and the adopting spouse later divorce. A stepparent adoption is a serious legal decision and we always urge our clients to consider all of the repercussions before moving forward with an adoption. For general information purposes, we have compared some of the reasons to, or not to, adopt below.
Reasons to Consider a Stepparent Adoption
The reasons that stepparents choose to adopt a stepchild vary depending on each family’s situation. Often times, a biological parent is not, or has never been, a part of the child’s life. In situations such as this, the stepparent and child each see the other as family and simply want to formalize this relationship. This offers both the stepparent and the child peace of mind knowing that their relationship will stay intact even if the biological spouse and stepparent separate. As an adoptive parent, you will have the same rights to child custody and visitation as if you were the biological parent. Additionally, should something happen to the child’s biological parent, your parent/child relationship will be protected under the law. Other factors leading a family to consider stepparent adoption include providing the stepparent with a legal right to participate in the decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of his or her stepchild. As mentioned earlier, however, the biological parent whose rights were terminated no longer has a legal right to make decisions regarding the child.
When Adoption is Not the Best Solution
At the law office of Mayer & Young, PC, we understand the difficult position that stepparents are often placed in. How much weight is truly given to the stepparent in decision-making regarding the child? As a stepparent, you may feel as though since you are not the biological or “real” parent, you do not have the same influence as your spouse. We warn our clients that a legal adoption is not going to magically make that feeling go away.
This is especially true where the other biological parent is still involved, even sparingly, in the child’s life. In these situations, the child may be protective of the other parent and the adoption process may frighten or upset them. Additionally, the other biological parent may be unwilling to give up their parental rights and you may find that the process of adoption is having a negative effect on your family.
If you decide that stepparent adoption is not right for you family, you can still protect the relationship between the child and stepparent if something were to happen to the biological spouse. Our office recommends including a child safeguard plan as part of your comprehensive estate plan.