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Stepparent adoption law varies from state to state, but the process is typically easier than for other types of adoption. A stepparent adoption is used to legalize the parent-child relationship between a stepparent and his/her spouse’s child. In a stepparent adoption, the stepparent assumes financial and legal responsibility for his/her spouse’s child, and the non-custodial parent is released from all parenting responsibilities, including child support. In many states, stepparent adoption not only severs the legal relationship with the parent, but also with members of that parent's extended family.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are there special rules for stepparent adoptions?
A: In many states, a stepparent adoption is much easier to complete than a non-relative adoption. The procedure is generally the same but specific steps are sometimes waived or streamlined. For example, some states eliminate traditional waiting periods and/or waive the homestudy requirement. For a more detailed description of the homestudy process, please refer to the separate homestudy FAQ document. Some states also require the stepparent to be married for a certain period of time before filing to adopt his/her spouse’s child.
Q: Who must give consent for a stepparent adoption?
A: A stepparent adoption, like other types of adoption, requires the consent of both parents (the stepparent’s spouse and the non-custodial parent) unless the court determines consent is not necessary. This is because a stepparent adoption has the effect of terminating the non-custodial parent’s rights and obligations. Most states have different procedures in cases where a non-custodial father was never married to the mother. In addition, some states also require the child to consent to the adoption (if the child is of a certain age).
Q: What if the non-custodial parent will not consent to the adoption?
A: The adoption cannot proceed if the non-custodial parent does not consent unless the court determines ground exist for dispensing with the consent. Typically, there are circumstances (outlined in state statutes) under which the court can grant the adoption despite the non-custodial parent’s objection. In most states, the court can dispense with the consent requirement when the non-custodial parent has failed to support or communicate with the child for a certain period of time. These timeframes vary by state, but one year is a common time period. Each state also has different laws concerning how much support or communication is enough to require consent. Token payments/gifts will suffice in some states while in others it will not.
Q: Do I need an attorney?
A: The answer varies from state to state, or even from county to county. Some states statutes or local court rules or policies require representation by an attorney while others do not. You should check your local court’s website to see if there are downloadable forms you can complete on your own.
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