When you form your blended family, you might start to think about whether it’s possible for a step-parent to legally adopt their step-children. In many cases, the answer is yes. Step-parent adoptions are one of the most common types of adoption in North Carolina. If you’re thinking about a step-parent adoption in North Carolina, there are some important things you should know.
1. You must be legally married to the child’s parent
To adopt a child, you must be legally married to the child’s parent. You must be married to the parent that has legal and physical custody of the child. It’s not enough to be in a long-term relationship with the child’s parent. You must be legally married. Even though two unmarried biological parents can share custody of child, the state doesn’t allow you to adopt a child unless you’re married to the child’s legal parent or the child has no legal parents. In the case of step-parent adoption, that means you must be married to the parent of the child with legal and physical custody.
2. The child must live with you for at least six months
In addition to being legally married to the child’s parent, you must live with the child for at least six months before you begin the adoption. North Carolina lawmakers have this residency requirement so that you all have time to get to know each other and make sure that you’re prepared for what’s ahead. Once you complete the residency requirement, the state presumes that the home is fit and appropriate for the child, and the adoption can proceed.
3. Child support ends once the adoption is final
When the adoption is final, the step-parent becomes the official parent of the child. The other biological parent agrees to give up both their rights and obligations regarding the child. Giving up rights and obligations means that child support ends when the adoption is final. The biological parent who gives up their parental rights so that the adoption can proceed no longer has any obligation to provide the child financial support. Instead, that obligation transfers to the adopting parent.
4. But the child’s biological parent still owes outstanding child support
One exception to the child support rule is a parent’s outstanding child support balance. If a parent owes back child support, they can’t escape the obligation by consenting to the adoption. Even though child support ends going forward, the parent still has to pay all of the child support arrears that are outstanding up until the date of the adoption.
5. You have equal rights to the child if you ever get divorced
A step-parent who adopts a child has full legal rights to the child. They have the exact same rights that the biological parent has. Equal rights mean that both parents have an equal standing if the two legal parents get divorced on down the road.
The biological parent has no preference over the adoptive parent when it comes to determining custody and parenting time. In addition, both parents have an obligation to support the children financially. If you’re thinking about step-parent adoption, it’s important to understand that the adopting parent has the exact same rights and obligations regarding the child that the biological parent has.
6. If the child is 12 years of age or older, they must consent to the adoption
The purpose of step-parent adoption is to provide for the well being of children and create family relationships. The laws work to help children have what they need physically, emotionally and mentally. When children are older, they get to have a say. Children who are 12 years of age and older have to consent to be adopted. Even if the biological parent and the step-parent can agree, a child who is 12 or older must agree to be adopted in order for the court to approve the adoption.
7. The biological parent may consent to the adoption
When the child’s other biological parent agrees to the step-parent adoption, it’s quite simple. If the biological parent allows the adoption to go through, it can be as simple as preparing the necessary paperwork and filing it properly. You must notify the child’s other biological parent that you want to adopt the child. If the parent agrees, they can complete paperwork that notifies the court that they consent. If they agree, finalizing the adoption paperwork is typically routine.
8. But the court can order the adoption even if the biological parent doesn’t consent
You might wonder what happens if the other parent doesn’t allow the adoption to proceed. While it makes the adoption more difficult, there are still some circumstances where the court may approve an adoption over a biological parent’s objection. For the court to approve an adoption despite a parent’s protest, the biological parent must have been absent from a child’s life for several years. In addition to their physical absence, they must not have provided any financial support during that time. The court may schedule hearings and accept evidence in order to decide whether to approve the adoption.
9. There are benefits to step-parent adoption
A step-parent adoption can make it easier for the step-parent to serve as a parent to the child. A step-parent has very few rights when it comes to a child. They can’t access school records or take the child to a doctor. Their employer may not allow them to place a step-child on their medical insurance plan.
When you formally adopt a child, you’re a full legal parent to the child. You can do all of these things easily. When someone asks, you can say that you’re the child’s parent with no additional explanation necessary.
10. Adoption can make your family stronger
Adoption can be the right way to help you come together as a family. Some families find that solidifying their relationship through adoption brings them closer together. Step-parent adoption can be a way that a step-parent shows their commitment to their spouse and children. It can give the step-parent the confidence to know that they have equal legal rights when it comes to the children that they’re raising. You may find that step-parent adoption is a positive step for your entire family.
How we can help
If you’re considering a step-parent adoption, our experienced North Carolina adoption attorneys can help you understand your options. When you fully understand what a step-parent adoption entails and the rights and obligations that go along with it, you can make the best possible decisions for your family. If you’re considering a step-parent adoption, contact our team today. We’re ready to help you.