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Yours, Mine and Ours – Top Six Issues to Know When Considering a Stepparent Adoption

Author: Amy Saul Mollengarden

More than half of all families in the United States are the result of remarriages or reflect new partners living together, with children from previous relationships oftentimes becoming a part of the new family portrait. The first question for a couple who has remarried or is contemplating getting married and already have children is how do we make this a complete family? The answer is becoming a stepparent by adopting the new partner’s children.

Some 1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day, according to the Stepfamily Foundation and its analysis of U.S. Census Bureau statistics. However, the process of adoption – especially adopting children from a partner’s previous relationship – can be difficult. Besides the emotions that come with stepparent adoption, there are several legal hurdles that the adoptive parent and spouse must navigate. Couples may be able to do a stepparent adoption without the consent of the parent who is losing parental rights, but that often entails litigation and significant legal expense.

A common case involves a parent who is not a part of the child’s life, while the prospective stepparent is an active participant. For example, consider the situation where a woman has remarried and has a child who was born out of wedlock from a previous relationship. The biological father has never taken any action to make the relationship with the child legal. He may not be paying child support. Now, the mother is remarried, and the new husband has taken on the role of father, forming an emotional bond and providing financial support, and he wants to adopt the child. This is a situation where the biological father may willingly relinquish his paternal rights.

While there are many steps in the stepparent adoption process, there are six main factors that a couple should consider and fully comprehend.

1. Understand the fine print and give informed consent

The most important part of securing a successful stepparent adoption is that all parties involved have to understand the details and give informed consent. Not only is one parent giving up all parental rights to the child, the stepparent is taking on responsibilities and getting rights that will have long-term effects.

For example, if a mother who has a child gets remarried and wants her new husband to adopt her child, she needs to understand that she is giving her new spouse parental rights to her child. In the event of a divorce, he would be entitled to custodial rights. At the same time, the adoptive parent must realize that the child becomes his.

Most important of all, the biological father needs to understand he is surrendering his rights to the child and it is complete and full surrender. The parent can’t come back later and re-establish his legal connection with the child.

In this situation, the attorney would ask the couple if he or she could contact the biological father to get his cooperation in the adoption process. The attorney would explain that he or she represents the couple and not the biological father, and also tell him that he has the right to hire his own attorney.

2. Sign surrender documents

There are two main documents that the biological parent giving up his or her rights needs to sign. The first is called the “acknowledgement of surrender of rights.” This document acknowledges that the parent understands that he or she is giving up those parental rights. The second document is called a “surrender and final release for adoption” in which the parent is actually giving up those rights.

3. Pay attention to four-day revocation period

Under state law in Georgia, the biological parent is allotted four days to revoke the decision to give up parental rights. In 2018, Georgia lawmakers shortened the revocation period to four days from 10 and made it more consistent with the timeframes in other states.

4. File relevant court papers – stepparent role

The prospective parent must file court papers declaring that he or she is deemed financially, mentally and emotionally able to adopt. The adoptive parent has to be at least 10 years older than the child. Additionally, it must be designated that the child is a U.S. citizen. If the child is not, then an immigration attorney may have to be brought into the case.

5. File court papers – other biological parent

The other biological parent seeking to have his or her partner adopt the child also must file court papers consenting to the adoption.

6. Focus on who needs to attend court proceedings

The biological parent who is surrendering parental rights does not have to show up to the court proceeding if all the court papers giving up those rights are properly prepared under oath. Only the prospective parent and spouse who is the other biological parent have to be at the court proceeding.

The vast majority of adoptions are done in closed chambers and are not public, with the court file being sealed. Once the judge signs the final order of adoption, the process doesn’t end there. New documents for the adopted child will be needed such as a new birth certificate and Social Security card. The stepparent will need to notify any tax preparers that the adoption was finalized and see if his or her last will and testament should be updated as well.

With the proper legal help, stepparent adoptions are happy occasions that bring a new family together.

For more information, contact us today!

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