The basics: Missouri stepparent adoption

Stepparent adoption is a way in which a stepparent can gain legal parental rights and form an unbreakable bond with his or her stepchildren.

Stepparent adoption is a way in which a stepparent can gain legal parental rights and form an unbreakable bond with his or her stepchildren.

Blended families are common not only in Missouri but across the country. With the first-marriage divorce rate hovering at around 50 percent - and the United States Census Bureau reporting that about 40 percent of those people choose to marry again - it is easy to see why. In many ways, blended families have all the markers of more "traditional" families, with parents, children, family bonding, squabbles, love, togetherness and quality time. In other ways, however, blended families are a bit different.

One way in which blended families, where one or both spouses is a stepparent to their spouse's biological children, is that the stepparent doesn't necessarily have the same legal parental rights as a biological parent would. There is a way to gain those rights, though; a stepparent can choose to legally adopt his or her stepchildren.

The process

In theory, the concept sounds simple: stepparent wants to adopt stepchild, stepparent fills out some forms, adoption is finalized, stepparent is now legally equivalent to a biological parent. However, few things in life are ever as simple as they seem, and this is certainly no exception.

The intent of the stepparent to adopt the child, and even the child's desire to be adopted by the stepparent aren't the only determining factors for an adoption to be approved. In fact, intent is only a part of the process, and one of many things that the Missouri Family Court Judge approving an adoption application must consider.

Importantly, a stepparent wishing to adopt his or her stepchild must take care to respect the parental rights of the child's non-custodial parent. Generally, a non-custodial parent may be able to contest an adoption unless exigent circumstances exist. These may include:

  • Non-custodial parent's parental rights having been previously terminated
  • Paternity hasn't been officially established for the child and the putative father denies paternity
  • Non-custodial birth parent's identity is unknown
  • The non-custodial birth parent is served notice of an upcoming adoption but never responds or replies to challenge it
  • Non-custodial parent is deceased
  • Non-custodial parent has abandoned the child
  • Non-custodial birth parent has a disease or condition such that he or she cannot meet the child's needs

This step is crucial because Missouri law respects and honors the rights of parents to raise their children, so anything - like an adoption of the child by another party - that would infringe upon those rights is treated with proverbial "kid gloves."

After dealing with the issues posed by terminating the parental rights of the non-custodial parent, an adoption is legally akin in many ways to a child custody determination. The adoption can proceed only if a judge, upon weighing the entirety of the circumstances, determines that it is in the child's best interests that the adoption be granted. Once an adoption is finalized, though, the stepparent has the same legal rights and responsibilities to the child as any biological parent would, including the right to seek custody of the child in the event of a divorce, the ability to make medical care and educational decisions, and the responsibility of meeting the child's physical, social and emotional needs.

This article, of course, provides only a bare-bones overview of some important aspects of the Missouri stepparent adoption process. To learn more about adoption, and for help meeting the technical legal criteria necessary for an adoption to be approved, speak with an experienced family law attorney like those at Stange Law Firm, PC.

Keywords: stepparent adoption, stepchildren adoption, stepchild, adopt, parental rights