Stepparent adoption can be an important tool for increasing the legal security of your child. Given the significant divorce rate, it is not surprising that there are many “blended families” comprised of two parents, one or both of whom have a minor child or children from a prior marriage or relationship. In a fair number of cases the “ex” has been largely absent from the child’s life since the custodial biological parent remarried, and the stepmother or stepfather has become the child’s de facto parent, paying for medical care, school, and recreational expenses, ferrying the child to and from sports practice, dance lessons, school plays, and other activities, and attending doctor visits and teacher conferences. In some cases, the stepmother or stepfather is the only mother or father the child has ever known.
Although the stepparent, along with his or her spouse, the custodial biological parent, may be doing all the "heavy lifting" of parenting the stepson or stepdaughter, the stepparent does not have the same status vis a vis the child as a biological or legal parent of the child. Thus, although the stepparent is fulfilling all the responsibilities of parenthood, he or she is not afforded the rights of parenthood, while the absent biological parent maintains parental status and rights under the law.
If something were to happen to the biological parent, although the stepparent may be the one person best able to provide for the child's mental and emotional well-being and maintain the continuity of care and stability of the child, the stepparent may find himself on the outside looking in if the heretofore absent biological parent or even well-meaning inlaws step in to exercise rights or influence with respect to the child.
Adoption of the child by the stepparent establishes legally the parent-child relationship already existing between the child and the stepparent. The legal process for stepfather adoption involves the termination of the legal and/or biological parental rights and the finalization of the stepfather’s adoption of the child. Similarly, in a stepmother adoption, the birth mother’s parental rights are terminated in order for the stepmother to adopt the child. Through adoption, the child is the legal child of the stepparent, and the stepparent is obligated for such things as child support, has all other parental responsibilities and liabilities, and shares fully in all parental prerogatives and rights with respect to the child.
If you have questions about how to do a stepparent adoption, or if you are interested in adopting your stepchild or stepchildren, please contact Jeanne T. Tate, P.A. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 813.258.3355). Jeanne has practiced adoption law for over 30 years and we have helped complete adoptions for thousands of families, including innumerable stepparent adoptions.