What You Need to Know About Stepparent Adoption in California

step parent dancing with kid_s

Stepparents often play an integral role in their stepchild’s life. As relationships progress and as families grow and change, you and your spouse (or unmarried domestic partner) may decide you want to formally “blend” your family by adopting your stepchild. This has many benefits to both the stepparent and the stepchild. For the stepparent, adopting their stepchild not only makes their parent-child bond official, but it allows the stepparent to take on a bigger role in their stepchild’s life as a legal parent, make important legal and medical decisions on their stepchild’s behalf, and ensure that if tragedy strikes and they lose their spouse, that their stepchild would remain in their life. Adoption also allows stepparents to better provide for their stepchildren in their estate plans. For stepchildren, a stepparent adoption can lead to a greater sense of stability in the home and a sense of belonging within the family dynamic. 

It’s important to note that when a stepparent adopt their stepchild, they don’t just get the benefit of extra rights to their stepchild, but will have a legal responsibility to the child until the stepparent’s death or until the child reaches the age of majority. A successful stepparent adoption puts the stepparent on equal footing with the natural parent. The law does not distinguish between the rights of natural parents and adoptive parents. This means that if you and your spouse split up, the child you adopted is just as much yours as they are the natural parent’s. You’d be able to fight for custody, but would also potentially be responsible for providing child support. An adoption is not a commitment to be made lightly. 

Requirements for Stepparent Adoption

A stepparent or second-parent adoption occurs when the spouse of a child’s natural parent wants to adopt their stepchild. The adoption ultimately allows for the stepparent to have all the rights and responsibilities associated with a natural parent. While this article uses the word spouse, a legally recognized domestic partner is also permitted to seek a stepparent adoption, so long as the relationship between the natural parent and the stepparent is legally recognized.

The first step of a stepparent adoption in California is to file an adoption request. From there, a brief investigation will be conducted by social services to ensure that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. The investigating agency will conduct interviews, review all relevant documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, and information on any prior divorces, and complete a background check on the stepparent. At this juncture, it is advisable to seek letters in support of the adoption from friends, family, and co-workers to strengthen your case. 

A child, regardless of what state they’re in, is only legally allowed to have a maximum of two legally recognized parents. That means that for a stepparent adoption to occur, any existing parental rights of the non-custodial parent, or absent parent, must be severed. If the other parent’s identity is not known to the custodial parent, if there never was another parent involved, or if the other parent died, then the adoption can proceed. If not, the parental rights of the absent parent must be severed. This can occur if the second parent voluntarily relinquishes their rights and consents to the adoption. If that proves unsuccessful, the court can terminate the absent parent’s rights and go ahead with the adoption if there is a strong showing that the absent parent abandoned their child or is unfit to maintain parental rights.

Additionally, the custodial parent/spouse must formally consent to the adoption. Lastly, if the child is over the age of 12, California law requires that the child also consent to the adoption. 

Temecula Adoption Lawyers

The adoption process can be complex, especially when the rights of a natural parent must be severed in order for the adoption to take place. However, with the help and guidance of an experienced family law attorney, these adoptions can be swift and successful. The skilled attorneys at Roberts & Zatlin Family Law Firm can guide you through the adoption process and fight for the best possible outcome: a happy family. Our comprehensive family law services span the entire field of family law, and we are well-prepared to assist you in any and all of your family law needs. With over 35 years of combined experience in the field, our team will fight relentlessly for you and your family. Our office is based in Temecula, California, but we proudly serve families thought the Inland Valley and beyond. Don’t hesitate to contact us today! Your first consultation is, as always, free and confidential.

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