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What to Know About Stepparent Adoption

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 06, 2022

Stepparent adoption happens when a parent's new spouse becomes a legal parent to their spouse's existing child. It’s one of the most common forms of adoption. In the U.S., stepparent adoption procedures vary state by state. Generally, the stepparent adoption process is usually less complicated than other types of adoption.

What Is Stepparent Adoption?

Stepparent adoption is when a stepparent becomes a legal parent of a spouse's existing child. The parent who is not living with the child is called the noncustodial parent in legal terms. Once a stepparent adoption is complete, the noncustodial parent loses all their rights to the child. They also lose their responsibilities, including paying child support. So, stepparent adoption may not be right for every situation because the stepparent may have to carry the entire financial responsibility of the child.

What Is Required for Stepparent Adoption?

Noncustodial parental consent. Stepparent adoption works best when the noncustodial parent is not very involved in the child's life. Typically, the noncustodial parent must consent to the adoption and sign away their rights and responsibilities. Consent from the noncustodial parent may not be required in some circumstances, though.

In some states, the stepparent can still adopt even if the noncustodial parent doesn't want to agree to the adoption. This mainly happens when the noncustodial parent has not contacted the child for a certain amount of time or seems to have abandoned the child.

Depending on the state, consent can be given as a written statement or in front of a judge. In certain states, the noncustodial parent will need to receive counseling, speak to a lawyer, or have a representative of the court explain the laws to them to make sure they understand the situation fully.

Child's consent. In some states, if a child is over a certain age — usually between 10 and 14 years old — they also need to consent to the adoption.

Criminal background check. Stepparent adoptions don't usually require home inspections or home studies like other types of adoptions. But stepparents may need to go through a background check to search for past criminal history.

Stepparent adoption forms. The availability of and process for completing stepparent adoption forms varies by state. Some states make these forms available online. In other states, you may have to pay a small fee to purchase the forms. The forms will ask for information about the child, your marriage, and the noncustodial parent. In some states, you must live with the child or be married to the custodial parent, for at least a year to be eligible for stepparent adoption.

Supporting documentation. Along with the appropriate forms, you'll need to submit other documents that support your claims. Examples of what you may need include:

  • The child's birth certificate
  • Your marriage certificate
  • A statement of consent from the noncustodial parent

How Do I Start the Process of Adopting My Stepchild?

The first step is to research the laws in your state. Some states allow you to represent yourself for stepparent adoption, while others require you to get a lawyer. Find out which court handles stepparent adoptions in your area. In some states, the juvenile court handles adoptions. In other states, they take place in family court or surrogacy court.

Next, get the required forms, fill them out, and submit them along with any other information required. Once this information is processed, you’ll receive a preliminary court date within a few weeks or months. The custodial parent, child, and stepparent are usually required to be present at this hearing. When the hearing is over, your family will have a date for the finalized adoption hearing. This is usually a few months after the first hearing. In some states, a preliminary hearing is not necessary for stepparent adoptions.

In between the two hearings, some states require visits from a social worker to make sure everything is going well. At the finalized adoption hearing, you’ll receive a certificate of adoption. Once the adoption is finalized, get a new birth certificate for your child. The new certificate will have the stepparent listed as a legal parent, and it will include any changes to the child's name, if applicable.

Stepparent adoption is not as expensive as other forms of adoption. However, court fees and attorney costs can range between $1,000 and $3,000.

Issues to Consider With Stepparent Adoption

Loss of the noncustodial parent. Kids may feel grief about their noncustodial parent. Grief can look different in kids than it does in adults. Encourage your child to tell their story, and validate their experiences to help them work through their feelings of loss and grief.

Children tend to have questions about a parent who is no longer involved in their life. When a stepparent adoption takes place, the noncustodial parent has usually been absent for a while. Create an environment where your child can talk about their noncustodial parent and ask questions about them. You can even ask your child directly if they have any questions about the parent who is no longer there.

Talk positively about the noncustodial parent. As younger kids get older and learn more about genetics, they will realize that half of their genes come from their noncustodial parent. Talk honestly about any challenges or difficult qualities that person has, but be sure to include some positive memories as well.

One idea to help your child cope with stepparent adoption and the loss of their noncustodial parent, you can create a Lifebook — a special book with a history of your child's life, including information about their noncustodial parent.

Grandparents and extended family. Even if the noncustodial parent is no longer involved in your child's life, some experts believe it is good to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members. This can involve sending pictures via text, scheduling video calls, or having in-person visits.

Postadoption depression. Some adults experience depression after adoption, especially if the reality of daily life with your child doesn't match what you expected.

Finding support. Becoming a stepparent and a blended family is a lifelong process and commitment. It's common to have issues, but you don't have to deal with them on your own. Some experts recommend attending therapy for parents, stepparents, children, or the whole family.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Adoption.org: "9 Things To Know When Adopting Your Stepchild."

Child Welfare Information Gateway: "Choosing Therapy for Adopted Children and Youth," "Helping Adopted Children Cope With Grief and Loss," "Lifebooks," "Postadoption Depression," "Stepparent Adoption."

Creating a Family: "Unique Issues with Stepparent Adoption."

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