Ask the Attorney: Step-parent Adoption

Q: For years, I have filled the role of a parent to my stepchild, and I would like that relationship to be legally recognized. How do I go about adopting my stepchild, as a stepparent?

Adoption can be a lengthy and stressful process for hopeful parents-to-be. 

This can also be true for stepparents, but fortunately they have fewer bureaucratic obstacles to overcome when adopting their stepchildren.  Regardless, stepparent adoption is not a process to be undertaken lightly, and anyone considering adoption should consult an attorney.

Ordinarily, hopeful adoptive parents must undergo an assessment that documents their fitness and ability to care for a child. Then, they must file a report of intention to adopt with the court that details their financial and life circumstances, as well as the details of the child to be adopted. After that, adoptive parents-to-be can finally file a petition for adoption to start the actual legal adoption process. Stepparents can skip the preliminary steps, and begin the adoption simply by filing the petition for adoption.

The petition for adoption contains all of the information necessary for the court to decide whether an adoption is appropriate.  Among other things, it: describes the petitioner, including occupation, religious affiliation and racial background; it states the relationship between the petitioner and adoptee, and how long the adoptee has lived with the petitioner; it clearly states that the petitioner wants to create a parent-child relationship with the adoptee; it notes what the adoptees new name should be; and it discusses who the natural parents of the adoptee are and whether they have given up their parental rights or otherwise consented to the adoption.

If the natural parent of the adoptee is known, securing his or her consent to the adoption is crucial to ensuring that the adoption proceeds smoothly. Otherwise, the natural parent can oppose the adoption and the court will be forced to decide with whom parental rights should rest.

After the filing of the Petition for Adoption, the court will schedule a hearing by issuing a notice of hearing. 

This notice must be served on anyone who would have to consent to the adoption, and specifically the natural parent of the adoptee.  How far out the court schedules the adoption hearing depends on how busy the court’s calendar is. 

At the hearing, the court will listen to testimony and gather whatever other evidence it needs to be certain that the adoption is worthwhile.  Natural parents who do not have custody, but oppose the adoption can also speak up at the hearing. 

Assuming the court is convinced, it will then issue a decree of adoption.

(This article is intended as a discussion of legal topics that are often confusing to many laypeople; it is not, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. If you have a question for the attorney, contact The Law Office of Jesse White in Cecil at 724-743-4444 or visit www.jessewhitelaw.com.)


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