Adoption, joyous as it is, is a complex process, both legally and emotionally, since it involves the transfer of a child from one parent or family to another. Stepparent adoption differs from other types of adoption in that the child and adult have already bonded and are typically already living in the same household. As the parent, you are not taking the same risk as a parent adopting a totally unfamiliar child; you are instead cementing an existing bond.
Reasons for Stepparent Adoption
Having co-parented the child for some period of time, you know and probably love the child you have chosen to adopt. Hopefully, that child knows and loves you, too. Reasons you may want to adopt your stepchild are to legally recognize the parent-child bond, to have a say in medical and educational decisions made on behalf of the child, to give the child inheritance rights, and to have the legal rights of a parent if you and spouse split up or if your spouse becomes incapacitated or dies. Once you adopt your stepchild, the child has two active, engaged parents.
The first thing you need as you begin this adventure is a first-rate family law adoption attorney to help you navigate the legal system. If you reside in the vicinity of Phoenix, Arizona, there is no more knowledgeable, capable, or caring family law adoption attorney than Mitchell E. Cohen of Cohen Family Law. Mitch has a well-deserved reputation for being effective, efficient, and responsive — three traits that will serve you well as you legally redefine your family unit.
Becoming a Stepparent
There are several ways you may become a stepparent. All involve marrying or cohabiting with one of the child’s biological parents. Whether that birth parent has become detached from the other birth parent by virtue of abandonment, separation, divorce, or death will play an important role in how smoothly the adoption process goes, and how long it takes. This is because the factor that is most likely to interfere with adopting your stepchild is the child’s other living biological parent’s objection to the adoption.
The Other Biological Parent Has Rights
Every parent has inherent rights relative to his or her child, though these rights may be forfeited if the parent is found to be negligent, abandons the child, or is unable to meet the child’s basic needs. Under normal circumstances, a parent has the right to make, or share in, decisions concerning his or her child’s education, healthcare, and religion, along with many other aspects of the child’s life.
When an individual is proven (in some cases by a paternity test) to be a biological parent, provides financial support (if able to do so) and has an ongoing relationship with the child, that parent may be able to prevent a stepparent adoption.
When a Parent Forfeits Parental Rights
The parent may also forfeit his or her rights if proven to be a danger to the child, presenting a threat of physical or sexual abuse. This may occur if the parent has been convicted of a felony involving violence or a sexual offense against a child, as well as if the parent has harmed his or her own offspring or spouse.
There are also cases in which Child Protective Services (CPS) has previously granted your partner sole custody and has permitted visitation only under supervision or permitted no visitation at all to the other biological parent. In any of the above examples, it may be relatively easy to have the biological parent relinquish rights to the child so that the stepparent adoption can take place.
An uncontested stepparent adoption may take only a few months, but a contested adoption, which will involve legal negotiations and a court decision, will definitely take longer. It should also be remembered that the stepchild has to consent to the adoption if that child is over the age of 14. It should also be noted that in Arizona LGBTQ individuals have equal rights to adopt stepchildren.
Stepparent Adoption & Second Parent Adoptions
If you want to adopt your stepchild, it helps to be married to the child’s biological parent. Though it is possible for you to adopt your partner’s child even if you two are not married to one another, it is likely to be a much more complicated process and take longer than if you are a married couple.
While the court usually encourages stepparent adoptions that make a family whole again, the court tends to frown on unmarried partners who want to adopt (“second-parent adoptions), and so makes them more difficult. This is not surprising since the court represents the law and marriage is a legal contract. Second-parent adoptions typically require a very thorough investigation of the home by a social worker who will have to be convinced that the couple, though unwed, is stable.
If the noncustodial parent is the mother, the social service agency will have to obtain her consent or recommend that her parental rights be terminated. Unmarried mothers without custody must pay support if they can and visit the child—or face losing the child to a stepparent or second-parent adoption.
With Stepparent Adoption Come Responsibilities as Well as Rights
At Cohen Family Law, we will always remind you that adoption is a lifetime commitment and that once you formally adopt your stepchild, you have legal responsibilities, as well as legal rights, regarding this new member of your family. You will be expected by law to raise and support your child. Once you are a legal parent of that child, he or she has all the same inheritance rights as a child with your DNA would. If you and your spouse or partner split up in the future, you will have the same rights and responsibilities regarding child custody, support, and visitation as any other parent. If your spouse or partner dies, you will be this child’s only parent.
Phoenix Stepparent Adoption Attorney
At Cohen Family Law we make stepparent adoption as trouble-free as possible. We have been through the process many times before and can guide you through it, whether or not there are bumps in the road. We know all the right papers to draft and file, how to meet every deadline, and, most important, how to best deal with the other, possibly oppositional, biological parent. Mitch Cohen, adoption attorney is savvy and completely comfortable in a courtroom. Call our office or fill out a contact form on our website to restart your family with renewed energy and strength.