In our country today, we have more blended families than ever before. As divorce has become more prevalent, those divorced persons have remarried and blended children from their prior marriage into a new home. If you have gotten a divorce and then remarried, you may have stepchildren in your home. It is only natural that by spending time with children like this, you would develop a relationship with them and grow to love them much like your own children. With this in mind, you and your current spouse may have even talked about the possibility of your adopting your stepchild to become one of your children in a legal sense.
This is a significant decision to make in one that you should not enter into without careful consideration. The nature of your relationship with your spouse and with that child may change to a certain extent once the child is your legal responsibility. Being a stepparent, in many ways, can be more akin to be an uncle or other more distant relative. Yes, you were able to spend time with this child a great deal, but you ultimately bear no legal responsibility to their upbringing. Once you take on the responsibilities and duties of raising that child as your own, the situation changes.
This can benefit you and can certainly help your stepchild, depending on your specific circumstances. We need to talk about what happens if you and your spouse are interested in you adopting your stepchild. At the same time, this may seem like a quaint and, in some cases, necessary thing to do. There are hurdles to getting it done. We would be remiss if we did not mention that there are difficulties associated with adopting a stepchild, most notably because you're a stepchild who has two parents already.
The law will not allow a child to have more than two legal parents. This is true whether or not the child you are attempting to adopt is your stepchild or not. In cases like these, what can you do to overcome problems regarding the other parent not agreeing to your adoption request? Since they would need to consent and give permission to adopt the child, this may appear to be an insurmountable roadblock.
In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we will discuss what to do and how to adapt your stepchild if the other parent does not agree to allow you to do so. The process of adopting a stepchild can appear to be pretty straightforward. Still, as with any issue regarding family law, the facts and circumstances of your case will be essential. Today, we will walk through how to handle a scenario like this and provide you with general information about stepparent adoption.
What are the essential pieces of information that you need to know regarding stepparent adoption?
When you are not the biological or legal parent to a child and seek to become so, you need to participate in the adoption process. That process begins with petitioning a family law court with jurisdiction over your stepchild and yourself to be named as that child's parent. You would not be petitioning the court to be named as that child's adoptive parent. You would be seeking the same legal rights and duties as a biological parent. There is no distinction under the law that you would have been the child's adoptive parent. You would hold the same rights and duties to the child as your spouse does.
Once the adoption goes through, your child would get a new birth certificate that names you and their natural-born parent as their parents. You are child could take your last name. Ann would be able to inherit benefits through you under the laws of intestacy and through possible benefits under Social Security. Adopting a stepchild has some additional requirements for you to be mindful of, as well.
First, the child that you seek to adopt would need to have only one living biological parent. This means that your spouse would be living, but the child's other parent would need to be deceased. While this may not be the most straightforward scenario for the child to be adopted, it would make for a more accessible discussion about stepparent adoption. There wouldn't be any need to have any conversation about overcoming a lack of consent from the other parent to leave this possibility to the side.
Second, your stepchild's biological parent would need to signed documents and consent to the adoption. I could envision a scenario where the other parent is not actively involved in your stepchild's life and has instead chosen two be reasonable and understand that while they may not be in a position to care for the child's needs, it is apparent to him her that you are. As a result, they could verbally consent to you and your spouse to allow you to adopt a child and then participate in the court process & documents naming you as that child's legal parent.
The final scenario that you should be mindful of is that it is possible that not only is your stepchild's other parent not actively involved in their life, but they may not be able to be located through diligent search. In cases like this, not only will you have to show that you and your spouse have not been able to identify the parent but that an attorney appointed by the court, known as an ad litem, has been unable to locate that parent either. Once a judge is satisfied that the other parent cannot be found, your adoption will proceed.
What happens if the other parent will not consent to your adopting your stepchild?
This is the question that we posed at the beginning of today's blog post and is the one that we need to answer to provide you with some clarification and guidance on how best to proceed in your stepparent adoption scenario. To legally adopt your child, the other parent's parental rights about your stepchild would need to be terminated. This is the legal step involved in ensuring that your stepchild does not have three parents. A court order would need to be sought to terminate that parent's parental rights if they do not consent and give permission to doing so voluntarily.
Your spouse would need to consent to your adoption of the child, which obviously would not be an issue. You and your attorney could then approach the biological parent and ask them for their consent to your adoption request. It is possible that the biological parent could seek representation by an attorney, given how serious of a request it is to terminate parental rights. This means that the biological parent would lose the right to spend time with their child and would also mean that they would lose the right to make decisions on behalf of that child. Essentially, it would be as if that parent in your stepchild never had a parent-child relationship; to begin with, Anne would be no more related than you, and I are.
If the biological parent refuses to consent to your stepparent adoption, the matter would need to be taken before a family court judge, and he or she moved would then need to determine whether or not it was in your stepchild's best interests for you to adopt them. Essentially, a judge would need to determine whether or not it is in the best interests of your stepchild to have their other parent's rights terminated and then allow for your adoption request to proceed.
The best interests of the child determination should be familiar to any of you that read our blog with regularity. Judges have to make best interest decisions regarding children for a range of different family law cases. Your family court judge would likely assess your stepchild's physical, emotional, health, educational, and general outlook under the two different possible outcomes in the case. Those outcomes are allowing your adoption to proceed and terminating the other parent's rights or refusing the adoption and declining to terminate that parent's parental rights.
Terminating a parent's parental rights is a dire situation that a judge would not agree to do without careful consideration. There is no going back, and the biological parent who has their parental rights terminated cannot in the future petitioned the court to have those rights reinstated. Once your parental rights are terminated concerning a child, there is no going back. As a result, the judge will typically look very closely at your circumstances to determine whether or not the termination of parental rights is even a possibility.
The steps involved in a contested stepparent adoption case
you and your spouse would file joint petitions for adoption regarding your stepparent adoption request. This means that both of you would file the same document with the court and request to have the other biological parent's rights terminated and to have you named as that child's legal parent. One of the first steps in that process will be the judge appointing a social worker or another similar person to begin a social study of your family.
A social study is a fairly common practice for different family law cases. An independent, third-party social worker or professional will be appointed to your case and conduct interviews of the relevant parties, review the nature of the relationship between your stepchild and the adults in this case, and inspect your home for suitability in the adoption process. A social study can, at times, feel a bit intrusive and uncomfortable, but the judge must learn as much as possible about your home life.
Next, an attorney will be appointed to represent your stepchild's interests independent of any adult involved in the case. Many parents will take issue with this step believing that they represent the best interests of their child or stepchild. However, it is essential to note that the judge will want to ensure that your child has an objective and dispassionate advocate on their behalf to determine another outlook for what is in that child's best interest. The amicus attorney will perform similar work to the social study liaison and make recommendations to the judge about how the adoption petition should be ruled upon.
Once these steps are complete, a hearing will be held in which evidence can be presented by both the biological parent and you and your spouse. After that hearing, a judge will consider the evidence suggested and issue rulings regarding the adoption request. If you request to adopt your stepchild, a separate hearing will be held to make everything official and complete the adoption process.
Questions about stepparent adoption in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in our office, over the phone, and via video. Thank you so much for being so interested in our law practice, and we hope you will join us again tomorrow on our blog as we continue to post unique content about the world of Texas family law. We are privileged to serve our neighbors in Southeast Texas in whatever family law circumstances they find themselves in. We would be honored to speak to you and your family but joining with our law practice and allowing us to serve you and your family.