What is a Stepparent Adoption?
A stepparent adoption creates a legal relationship between a stepparent and stepchild that previously did not exist. It declares that the person being adopted (stepchild) is legally the child of the adoptive parent (stepfather or stepmother), and the child becomes the adopting parent’s legal heir. The stepchild becomes entitled to all of the rights and privileges and subject to all of the obligations as if they were a child born to the adoptive stepparent. A stepparent adoption only ends the rights of one of the birth parents. The spouse of the stepparent retains their rights as a biological parent of the child.
The Nuts and Bolts of California Stepparent Adoption
- Symbolic Aspects: The effects of the stepparent adoption may be more important psychologically than legally. The legal process reinforces the feelings of “family” that a stepparent and child may share.
- Legal Rights: A stepparent is not a legal guardian and has no right to sign permission slips for school or medical purposes. An adoption order gives a stepparent this right. He or she becomes the child’s legal guardian jointly with his or her spouse.
- Inheritance Rights: Children will have inheritance rights to their stepparent families’ estates after legal adoption has taken place. The children will lose inheritance rights with the non-adopting natural parent after the adoption order is complete.
- The mother signed a written consent after the birth of the child.
- The father signed a written consent that:
- The child was conceived while he was married to the mother
- The child is his by a previous adoption, or
- The child has been established to be his by a court proceeding.
- If the child is older than 12 years, he or she has signed a written consent.
The court may approve an adoption without the noncustodial parent’s consent to an adoption if:
- A parent has deserted a child without giving means of identification or has abandoned a child (a diligent effort must be made to notify the parent and get consent).
- A parent who has been declared incapacitated by a court and for whom restoration of capacity is medically improbable.
- A parent whose parental rights have been terminated by court order.
- A legal guardian or custodian of a person to be adopted, other than a parent, who has failed to respond to a request for consent within 60 days or who, after examination by the court, is found to be withholding consent unreasonably.
- The stepchild is over the agent of 18 and the adoption can proceed as an adult adoption.
In these instances, a separate proceeding to terminate the noncustodial parent’s rights may be required to be filed in addition to the Petition for Adoption.