Upon adoption of a stepchild, some stepparents must take legal action to terminate the parental rights of an absent mother or father. First, in order for a stepparent to adopt their spouse’s child, the couple must be legally married or registered as domestic partners. Typically, Social Services prefers that the marriage exist at least one year prior to adoption. However, this is not a legal requirement. That said, in order for a successful stepparent adoption, either the birth parent must consent to the adoption or the stepparent must file a petition to terminate the birth parent’s rights.

Option 1: Obtain Parental Consent

Typically, getting consent for adoption from the birth parent is best for all parties. Some birth parents may consent to the adoption because they truly believe it is in the best interest of the child. On the other hand, some birth parents give consent to stepparent adoption because they no longer want to provide financial support. Regardless of their reasoning, the birth parent must provide written consent to the adoption for it to legally take place. However, it’s important to note that a birth parent who provides consent to stepparent adoption gives up all parental rights. For example, they surrender the right to visit their child or make decisions about their education and medical treatment.

Option 2: Terminate Parental Rights

If the birth parent does not consent to stepparent adoption, the court must terminate their parental rights in order for the adoption to occur. Alternatively, a stepparent can get a court order to end the birth parent’s parental rights. In order to do this, the stepparent will have to prove to the judge that they tried everything possible to obtain consent to adopt from the birth parent. Ultimately, California allows a stepparent to terminate parental rights of a birth parent for a variety of reasons:

Willful Failure to Communicate or Support vs. Child Abandonment

The court may terminate parental rights in California if the stepparent can prove the biological parent has failed to communicate with and support the child for more than one year. Such behavior is called willful failure to communicate or support. Additionally, based on the circumstances, the biological parent’s behavior may be deemed child abandonment.

In the case of alleged willful failure to communicate or support, the judge will review the biological parent’s actions to terminate parental rights at the same time the stepparent petitions for adoption. On the other hand, in the case of abandonment, the court must notify the absent parent’s immediate relatives of the action against them. As a result, the court will hold a separate hearing on the status of abandonment prior to the adoption proceeding.

Alleged Fathers

In some circumstances, the biological father of the child may be unknown, and his name is missing from the birth certificate. However, assuming there is an alleged father, the stepparent must serve him before petitioning to terminate potential parental rights. At this point, the alleged father can waive further notice. If he does not file a paternity action within 30 days, the court can terminate his rights. However, in most cases, the court does not require a hearing in this situation. Instead, the judge will sign an order after the filing of the petition to terminate rights and supporting declarations.

Stepparent Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights in California: The Process

Stepparent adoption requires completion of several legal forms along with the petition to terminate parental rights if the biological parent is not willing to consent to the adoption. If the stepparent is filing the petition, they must also ensure the documents are served on the child’s birth parent.

Additionally, stepparents should discuss the adoption process with the child in question. For example, a child must consent to the adoption if they are over twelve-years-old. Also, stepparent adoption requires a court-ordered investigation by a social worker. Typically, the fee for this investigation ranges from $600 to $700, depending on the county.

Finally, the court will hold a separate hearing for termination proceedings. At the hearing, the judge will review the case and make a determination about proceeding with the adoption and termination. They will then hold a final hearing.

If you’re interested in adopting a stepchild and terminating a birth parent’s rights, contact A People’s Choice. We provide low-cost, attorney-free legal document assistance and have over 40 years’ experience in the industry. Call us at 800-747-2780 today for more information.

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