Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes. Step-parents often want to adopt their step-children. In fact, step-parent adoption is one of the most common types of adoption. If your case qualifies, step-parent adoption can be quite simple. If your case doesn’t qualify under the rules, step-parent adoption can be difficult. Here’s what you need to know about step-parent adoption in North Carolina.
What are the requirements to qualify for a step-parent adoption?
The first step towards a step-parent adoption is determining whether you qualify to adopt. Here are the basic rules for a step-parent adoption in North Carolina:
- You must be married to one of the child’s biological parents
- You must have lived in North Carolina for at least six months before you file the petition
- If the child is 12 years old or older, the child must consent
- You must live with your spouse and the child
- If you’ve only been a family for a short period of time, you must do a home study
How do you file for a step-parent adoption?
To request a step-parent adoption, you file a petition for adoption of a minor child by a step-parent. There is also a consent form which is completed by the biological parent who is the spouse of the step-parent. If the child must consent, there’s a consent form for them, too. If the other biological parent agrees to allow the adoption, there’s a form for them to fill out that states their agreement.
If everyone involved consents to the adoption, you may not even have to go to court. The court might simply approve the paperwork after the 90-day minimum waiting period. If the biological parent whose rights must terminate for the adoption to proceed objects, the court must schedule hearing to decide whether to approve the adoption.
When the court approves an adoption, they issue an adoption decree. They also forward notice to the state’s office of vital records. The court has six months to approve or deny the adoption petition. They must wait at least 90 days before they make a decision.
Issues of consent and biological parents
Perhaps the stickiest issue when it comes to a step-parent adoption in North Carolina is the issue of the other biological parent. North Carolina law says that a child may have no more than two parents. If the other biological parent is still alive, that parent must either consent to the adoption or have their rights involuntarily terminated by the court.
The biological parent can consent to the adoption. If they consent, they just need to complete paperwork and submit it to the court, and the adoption can proceed in a routine manner.
If the biological parent doesn’t consent to the adoption, the case becomes much trickier. You’ve got to show that it’s in the best interests of the child to terminate the parental rights of the biological parent. Proving that a parent shouldn’t have parental rights is no easy task. Usually, you can only meet the burden of proof when you can show severe abuse or neglect. It’s not simply a matter of proving that the step-parent has more contact with the child or a better job. Instead, the court looks only at the biological parent’s basic parenting fitness.
The best bet for proving your case for termination of a biological parent’s rights is showing abandonment. When the child’s other biological parent hasn’t seen the child for at least six months and hasn’t paid support for at least that long, you might be able to convince a judge that termination of rights is in the child’s best interets. The courts presume that a child’s best interests are served when they have a relationship with their biological parents. In all but extreme cases, the court will deny a step-parent adoption if a biological parent doesn’t consent to it. If the other parent doesn’t consent to the adoption, it’s difficult to win the case even if an older child wants the adoption to occur.
What about failing to send the paperwork?
With a step-parent adoption being difficult without consent from the other biological consent, you might wonder if you can move your case through the court without giving notice to the other biological parent. That doesn’t work. You must either prove to the court that you served the paperwork on the other parent or you must detail for the court what you did to try to find the other parent. If you serve the other parent and they don’t respond, you can ask the court to waive their consent. However, you have to serve the other parent with the paperwork or do your best to do so.
What happens to the rights of the other biological parent after a step-parent adoption?
A child may have two legal parents. When the court approves a step-parent adoption, the other biological parent’s rights terminate. That means they no longer have a right to any contact with the child. They also no longer have rights to the child’s medical records or school records. If the biological parent paid child support, that obligation ends when the adoption is approved. In cases where the biological parent has a child support arrears, the arrears remains until they’ve fully paid it, but no new support accrues.
What are the step-parent’s rights after the adoption occurs?
When a step-parent adopts a step child, they become a full parent to the child. It’s as if they are a biological parent to the child. The step-parent parent has the same access to medical records and school records that the biological parent has. If the parents divorce the in the future, both parents have equal rights to ask for primary custody and parenting time. There’s no preference in North Carolina custody laws for a biological parent over a step-parent when the step-parent has formally adopted the child. Both parents also have the obligation to support the child financially. Parents going into a step-parent adoption should understand exactly what a step-parent adoption means for each person.
What happens if a step-parent doesn’t adopt a child?
A step-parent who has not adopted the child has few rights to the child. They don’t have the right to access medical records for the child. Without parental consent, they don’t even have the right to pick up the child from school.
A child doesn’t have the right to inherit from a step-parent. They may not be able to be on your insurance. There are legal rights associated with step-parent adoption in addition to the emotional satisfaction that parents often have by forming a legal relationship to their child. If you’re considering a step-parent adoption, an experienced North Carolina adoption attorney can help you explore your rights and determine the best possible course of action to pursue your goals.