One of the most popular types of adoption is stepparent adoption. When people choose to remarry after a divorce, or are otherwise single parents, one or both parents, many times, will have a child.
Although there are some things you can do without legally adopting your stepchild, a stepparent 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 stepchild on their medical insurance plan. A stepparent adoption can make it easier for the stepparent to serve as a parent to the child.
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.
1. What happens if we ever get divorced?
A stepparent who adopts a child has the same rights that the biological parent has. If you get divorced in the future, it means that you will have equal legal standing as parents. In addition, both parents have an obligation to support the children from a financial perspective.
But be careful – when couples divorce, they often assume that one parent will win custody of the child and with it the sole parental rights to the child. That almost always isn’t the case. Even when new stepparents enter the scene after a divorce, a child remains the child of their legal parents.
Even if one parent wins primary physical custody of the child, both of the parents are still the child’s parents. Even if a parent occasionally misses parenting time or child support payments, as long as they have some involvement in the child’s life, even just financially, the court is unlikely to terminate a parent’s rights in favor of a stepparent. The courts presume that it’s best for a child to have a strong relationship with both of their parents after the divorce.
2. Do we have to be married?
Yes – to adopt your stepchild, you must be legally married to the child’s parent. Even though two unmarried biological parents can share custody of a child, you aren’t allowed to adopt a child unless you’re married to the child’s legal parent or the child has no legal parents.
3. Does the child have to be living with us?
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.
4. Who has to consent to the adoption?
Ideally, the biological parent does
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.
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.
And, if they’re over 12, the child does too
The purpose of stepparent 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 stepparent can agree, a child who is 12 or older must agree to be adopted in order for the court to approve the adoption.
5. When does child support end?
When the adoption is final, the stepparent 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.
How we can help
If you’re considering a stepparent adoption, our experienced North Carolina adoption attorneys can help you understand your options. When you fully understand what a stepparent 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 stepparent adoption, contact our team today. We’re ready to help you.