Stepparent adoptions are often simple, straightforward legal proceedings that families can handle without the assistance on an attorney. Adoption laws vary from state to state, and the specific court procedures may even vary by county, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. As such, it is important for families to research the laws of their jurisdiction and make sure that they understand their state's adoption requirements before they begin to prepare or sign any paperwork.
Determine the proper jurisdiction for the case. Before you can begin to prepare or file your adoption paperwork, you must first figure out the proper venue for the case. Generally, this is the county in which the child currently resides. If your family has moved recently, it may be appropriate to hear the case in your former place of residence.
Contact the clerk of the court to verify the adoption process. Once you have determined where you should file your adoption paperwork, explain your situation to the clerk of the court. Although clerks cannot give legal advice, they will likely be able to provide you with a written outline of the stepparent adoption process as well as a list of self-help legal resources.
Get parental consent. Before you can proceed with a stepparent adoption, you will need the written and notarized consent of both natural parents. If one parent is deceased, you will typically need to provide the court with a certified copy of the death certificate. If one parent's whereabouts are unknown, you will need to locate him (or her), documenting your efforts to do so in detail.
Obtain the child's consent. If the stepparent is adopting an older child or teenager, the court may require the child to consent to the adoption. Some states may require a written consent while others may just ask the child's opinion verbally during a court hearing.
Prepare an adoption petition. An adoption petition lists the names of the child's biological parents, the stepparent, and basic information about the child and family including dates of birth and addresses. The petition also lists what type of outcome the family is seeking. In the case of a stepparent adoption, the family might ask for "the creation of a new parent-child relationship."
File the petition with the court. After you have obtained all parties' consents and prepared the petition, file it with the clerk of the court. Once the court has processed the petition, you will be assigned a hearing date.
Attend your hearing. Stepparent adoption hearings are often a formality rather than a substantive legal proceeding. At the hearing, the judge will review the facts of the case, clarify any issues that come up and make a determination on whether to grant the adoption. If the judge approves the adoption, your will receive a court order that will allow you to request an amended birth certificate for the child bearing the stepparent's name.