How to Adopt your Stepchild when the Father is Absent
Adoption can be a riveting, yet anxious time for potential parents. Stepparent adoption doubly so – it can be frustrating because you see your stepchild as one of your own. Legally claiming your stepchild has its own set of unique challenges.
Here, I have put together a short guide on what to look out for when adopting your stepchild.
Are you ready?
First and foremost, I would recommend taking a long look at your current relationship with your stepchild. Adopting your stepchild means you become the new legal parent – that entails all of the legal rights that come with parenthood.
The advantage to adoption is immediately obvious, as it provides you with the legal rights to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Adopted children are considered equal with biological children, which means they have all the rights to your estates and property.
These responsibilities don’t end at any point either. If in the unfortunate incident, you become divorced, you are required to upkeep all the responsibilities that typically come with parenthood – including child support
What about the biological father?
The Clearwater Law Group, who are Kennewick Family Law Attorneys with many years of expertise in family law, say that even if the biological father is not exercising any of their parental rights or responsibilities, that person is still considered the legal parent.
This means that before you even file for adoption, you need to get the address of the missing father. The biological father is required to sign off their rights – in doing so they forfeit all claimants to their child.
In the case where there is no address available, you must exhaust all possible options in searching for the biological father. This includes web searches, records request from local, state, and federal government, and contact with their friends and family.
Documentation at every level of your search is required. If a judge or magistrate doesn’t believe you are putting in the necessary effort, they can delay or even dismiss your case.
In the case that the biological parent is deceased, the only thing that is required to go forward is to have a death certificate of the parent.
What if the biological father does not consent?
This can wreck a potential adoption. In order to proceed, the biological father must be considered an unfit parent or have committed abandonment by the courts. Documentation of the child’s life for up to a year or more might be required to prove this.
If you believe the other parent will refuse to consent or has already refused, it is best to get into contact with a family law lawyer. An experienced attorney can navigate the stormy waters of state law better than anyone else and come to a resolution.
What paperwork do I need to file?
At a minimum, I would recommend the child’s birth certificate, your marriage documents, and the original parent’s divorce documents if applicable. Other paperwork that will be necessary will be any documentation relating to the missing father.
Being the adoptive parent you will have all rights to the child’s property and income. This means you will need documentation related to social security payments, trust funds, lawsuits, and deeds on tangible property and land.
Much of the paperwork and documentation you are filling out will require a notary. If you don’t have someone you know, the court can provide you with a notary for a small standard fee.
What else do I need to know?
Being the stepparent, you are exempt from many of the requirements that most adoptive parents have to go through. For instance, most states do not require a lawyer or a home study for stepparent adoption. Nonetheless, there are still a few stipulations for stepparent adoption.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIO), approximately 44 states and the District of Columbia require that potential foster parents complete a course of orientation and training prior to acceptance. A stepparent often requires the same credentials.
Adoption fees will also be needed and can vary from state to state. When all is said and done, adoption fees start at around $1500 without a lawyer. Courts do have a way of waving some of the fees for lower-income individuals.
LGBT couples need to pay extra special attention to adoption procedures. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights most states allow for LGBT step parents the same rights as heterosexual parents, but a few do not.
Finalizing the Adoption
After you have submitted all the forms necessary, a court hearing will be assigned. This typically can be anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months depending on your location. In stepparent adoptions, this court hearing is often waived.
If it isn’t, don’t despair! Often, these court dates are fairly routine. The judge or magistrate will question you and everyone living at your residence. In case of older child adoptions, a proof of consent form will be needed from them.
A social worker will be in contact to visit periodically and check on how the adoption is going. After a certain period of a time, a final hearing is scheduled. After the adoption certificate is issued, you can apply for a birth certificate for your new child.
The entire process from start to finish can take an entire year or more. It may be a lengthy process, but your patience will surely pay off. Soon you will have the ability to call your stepchild legally your own!