Adoption is a beautiful process that can bring a mixed family closer together and provide an adopted child with the same legal protections and rights as a biological child. However, suppose you are a stepparent willing to adopt your stepchild. In that case, it’s crucial to understand what adoption entails, what to expect from the process, and the full scope of the responsibilities you would be assuming if your adoption is approved.

Understanding the adoption process

Requirements for Adoption

The most crucial prerequisite for adoption is that the biological parent to be replaced by the adoptive parent must not have any claim to parental rights. Some examples of when this may occur include:

  • Death of a biological parent. You can adopt a child if you are married to their biological parent, and the other biological parent has died.
  • Involuntary termination of parental rights. If the child’s biological parent has lost parental rights due to criminal behavior, child abuse, or because the court has deemed them an unfit parent, they would have no right to contest the adoption. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that if a parent has lost their parental rights, they may still be liable for child support to the child’s custodial biological parent, and adoption would effectively cancel this financial obligation.
  • Abandonment. Family courts in the US generally consider a parent to have abandoned their child if they have not had any contact with the child for at least six months, have made no efforts to contact or parent their child, or if the child’s other biological parent has no way of contacting them.
  • Voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. A biological parent may be willing to voluntarily surrender their parental rights to make way for an adoption for many reasons. For example, they may not wish to have any connection to their child or take any parental responsibility, or they may acknowledge that the adoptive parent would provide a better upbringing for the child. However, a voluntary relinquishment is typically only an option for a biological parent when a stepparent is willing to adopt the child.

To adopt a child, your situation must align with one of these prerequisites, and you must be married to the child’s other biological parent. Once you meet these prerequisites, you can submit your petition for adoption to the local family court and begin the formal adoption process.

It’s technically possible to complete an adoption without legal counsel, but having an attorney assist you with the process will make it much faster and easier. Your attorney can help you draft your adoption petition and gather any documentation you may need to submit to the family court. Legal counsel can streamline the adoption process significantly, so it’s vital to consider the value of legal counsel if you and your spouse are considering adoption.

What Does the Adoption Process Include?

Once an adoptive parent has submitted their adoption petition, the court has a legal obligation to ensure the adoption would suit the child’s best interests. First, the court will assess the parental rights of the biological parent being replaced by the adoptive parent. As long as they have no valid parental rights or custody rights claim, the adoption process can continue. If a biological parent voluntarily relinquishes their parental rights, submitting the appropriate forms is a crucial preliminary step in the adoption process.

After the court has all necessary documentation, they will conduct a review process of the adoptive parent. This includes a background check and inspection of their home to ensure the adoptive parent can provide a safe upbringing for the adopted child. The court will typically appoint an investigator who will visit the adoptive parent’s home and interview the adoptive parent and the child’s custodial biological parent. If the investigator determines that the adoption would suit the child’s best interests, they will submit a favorable report to the court, and the adoption can proceed.

Once these investigations and background checks conclude, the adoption may only require a final formal hearing before a judge. The judge will want to hear testimony from the adoptive parent to learn more about their intentions behind the adoption and their goals for their family. The judge may also want to hear from the child to be adopted if the child is old enough to convey their thoughts. As long as the judge deems the adoption is suitable for the child’s best interests, they will approve it, and the adoption takes immediate effect.

Benefits of Adoption

Adoption provides several benefits to both the adopted child and the rest of their family. First, it can encourage better cohesion among members of a mixed family. This can be especially important for older children who may be more deeply affected by a prior divorce or losing their other biological parent than a younger child who may not fully understand their situation. Adoption often includes a formal name change that will grant the adopted child a new last name, if applicable to their family situation.

Adoption also provides the adopted child with tangible legal benefits beyond changing the child’s name and generating a more cohesive family unit. They would have the right to claim property from their adoptive parent’s estate just like a biological child, and they would also have the right to pursue civil claims on behalf of their adoptive parent. For example, they would have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim if their adoptive parent died because of the negligence of another party.

Adoption legally entitles the adopted child to the same rights and legal protections that a biological child usually has. In addition, the process is much easier to complete than many people may realize. For example, suppose you are a stepparent to a child, and their other biological parent has not been an active part of their life for an extended time. In that case, it’s worth considering the benefits of adoption if you plan to remain a family unit for the foreseeable future. If you and your spouse are considering adoption in the Midwest, contact an experienced family law attorney to learn more about the process and secure the legal counsel you need to navigate your adoption as seamlessly as possible.