Although individual states establish their own laws regarding adoption of a spouse's child, the basic process is similar in most jurisdictions: both biological parents must consent to the adoption and the case must be heard by a family court judge. Once a stepparent adoption is finalized, the new parent has full rights to his or her spouse's child and can make legally binding decisions for the minor.
The biological parent who is married to the adopting spouse must consent to the adoption in writing. This consent does not affect this parent's rights to the child; it simply affirms that they agree that the spouse should also become a legal parent to the child.
Noncustodial Parent's Consent
The child's other biological parent must consent to the stepparent's adoption. The family must attempt to locate that parent's whereabouts before the adoption may proceed. If the identity of the child's biological father is unknown, the mother must sign an affidavit attesting to this. Once the noncustodial parent consents to the adoption and it is accepted by the court, his or her parental rights are terminated under the law.
If the child is able to understand the proceeding, the court may ask him or her to sign a written consent to the adoption. When the child is too young to understand the meaning of adoption, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to assess whether the adoption is in the child's best interest. The family court judge may also choose to appoint a guardian ad litem if the child expressed conflicted feelings about the adoption and has an established relationship with the noncustodial parent.
The biological parent and stepparent must jointly file a petition for adoption in the jurisdiction where they currently reside. The petition must outline the basic demographic information about the biological parents, the stepparent, and the child. At the time of filing, the family should also provide all consents executed up until that point, the parents' marriage certificate, and a copy of the child's birth certificate.
The stepparent and his or her spouse must attend a hearing before the court will issue a final adoption decree. Unless the adoption is contested or the court has concerns about whether to grant the adoption, the hearing is usually brief and ceremonial. In most jurisdictions, at the end of the hearing, the judge will sign a final order of adoption. The family can use this final adoption decree to request a new birth certificate for the child and modify their wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents.