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
Stepparent adoption is one of the most common types of adoption proceedings. Usually, the child being adopted is a minor; however, a stepchild who has reached adult age can be adopted through an adult adoption proceeding.
In a stepparent adoption, the child’s legal rights and duties towards his or her natural absent parents are terminated and similar rights and duties toward the person’s adoptive parent are assumed.
To start a stepparent adoption, you first file a Petition with the court. In order to complete the adoption process, the biological parent must relinquish their rights to allow the stepparent to adopt the child. If they will not relinquish their rights, it may be possible to end their rights if they have not supported the child or had any contact with them for an extended period.
- 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.
Unless the court does not require it, a petition to adopt a child under age 18 may be granted only if:
- 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 written consent.
- A parent has deserted a child without giving means of identification or has abandoned a child (you must make a diligent effort to notify the parent and get consent).
- A court declares a parent incapacitated and for whom the restoration of capacity is medically improbable.
- A parent whose parental rights were terminated by court order.
- A legal guardian or custodian of a person to be adopted, other than a parent, who did not respond to a request for consent within 60 days or who the court determines has unreasonably withheld their consent.
- The stepchild is over the agent of 18, and you can file an adult adoption proceeding.
In these instances, a separate proceeding to end the noncustodial parent’s rights may be required to be filed in addition to the Petition for Adoption.