Stepparent Adoption Information
There are five different types of adoptions allowed in California: Stepparent or domestic partner adoption, independent adoption, agency adoption, adult adoption, and international adoption.
The most common type of adoption sought is a stepparent adoption. This article answers common questions related to stepparent adoptions. For information on other types of adoptions, please contact our adoption lawyers for a free consultation.
Definition of a step parent adoption: A stepparent adoption is a legal process, whereby an adult, who is not a child’s biological parent (birth parent), but who is legally married to the birth parent of the child, legally assumes parental rights and responsibilities for the child.
Once a stepparent adoption is completed, the adoptive stepparent will have all the legal rights and responsibilities as a birth parent and the birth parent’s rights are permanently terminated.
Note: A stepparent adoption is permanent and cannot be revoked except in cases of fraud or legal defect that is discovered within five years of the adoption. Even in a divorce, an adoptive stepparent maintains rights to a legally adopted stepchild.
The process of a stepparent adoption includes preparing, filing, and serving stepparent adoption forms. This includes preparing declarations and referral letters, obtaining the consent of the birth parent (or court approval without the birth parent’s consent), undergoing investigations and evaluations, and attending court hearings.
Stepparent Adoption Forms: The legal forms required for a stepparent adoption are listed on this page at Adoption Forms. It is important to understand that the legal forms do not provide information on how to draft persuasive declarations, present evidence, object to the introduction of negative evidence, conduct investigations, or court procedures and rules.
Note: Sometimes the birth child’s parent will consent to a stepparent adoption. If the birth parent does not consent to the stepparent adoption the court may nevertheless terminate the birthparent’s rights and allow the stepparent adoption. Whether or not the court will grant a stepparent adoption without the consent of the birth parent depends several factors, including, but not limited to, the following: 1) the suitability of the stepparent to adopt a child, 2) whether or not the birth parent maintains a relationship with the child, including financially supporting the child, or 3) whether or not the birth parent is permanently disabled or addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Note: A birth parent’s willful lack of contact with his or her child, along with the willful failure to support the child, is deemed abandonment of the child.
Lost or deceased birth parent: The adopting stepparent must show the court that he or she did everything reasonable to find the other birth parent in order to seek his or her consent to the stepparent adoption. This is not always easy. Sometimes the birth parent has been absent for years and/or does not want to be found. However, the adopting stepparent must make every reasonable effort to obtain the birth parent’s consent and give him or her notice of the intent to adopt his or her child. A reasonable search for the birth parent may include, but it not limited to, the use of internet search, certified mailings to the birth parent’s last address, investigations through common friends and family of the birth parent, vital records search, DMV records search, property records search, voter registration rolls search, use of a private investigator, and more. In the case of a deceased birth parent a certified death certificate should be shown to the judge.
Evaluation for stepparent adoption: The family law court will assign a social worker to make an evaluation of the adopting stepparent and the child’s proposed living environment. A private social worker may be employed for this purpose; however, this normally requires court approval.
The purpose of the evaluation is ensure that the child will be adopted by a loving stepparent who can afford to raise the child in a safe home while also provide emotional and long term support. The evaluator will conduct a home visit to assess environment for sufficient size and cleanliness. The evaluator will assess the mental capacity of the stepparent and other children in the home. The evaluator will also investigate for child abuse or domestic violence within the family. Furthermore, the evaluator may make assessments based on the likelihood of the permanency of the marriage to ensure the permanency of the family support to the child.
Stepparent adoption hearings: The hearing for stepparent adoption can be short or very complicated depending on whether or not the birth parent consents to the stepparent adoption. If the birth parent consents, and the social worker’s analysis is positive, the adoption hearing is simple; the judge will order the birth parent's rights to be terminated and assumed by the adopting stepparent. If the birth parent does not consent, or the social worker does not have a positive report, then a trial will be conducted to determine whether or not the court will approve the adoption absent consent or social worker approval. An adoption attorney will prepare the adopting stepparent for in-court testimony under these circumstances.
Court costs: The costs associated with a stepparent adoption include costs for a criminal background check, CPR classes if ordered, filing fees (Approximately $1,000 in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties), private social worker (if retained), and adoption attorney fees.
Note: It is illegal to negotiate a payment to the birthparent in exchange for his or her consent to a stepparent adoption. Only adoption related assistance, such as costs associated with a birth mother’s pregnancy or travel, may be paid to a birth parent and all expenses paid to the birth parent must be disclosed to the court.
Note: Post-adoption contact agreements for visitation are enforceable if they are included in the final adoption order.
Criminal convictions and adoption: Misdemeanor and felony convictions can have a negative impact on the stepparent’s ability to adopt a child. This is especially true if the criminal conviction is for a crime against a child; however, every adoption case is decided on its own merits and a criminal conviction is not an automatic denial of a stepparent adoption. Contact an adoption attorney familiar with criminal law to help clear your criminal history or to assist in resolving the negative impact that a criminal conviction can have on the stepparent adoption process.
We can help you realize your dream of adopting the child you love. We offer payment plans and our adoption attorneys are available seven days a week to answer your questions. Call today.
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