Adopting your stepchild is easiest when you have the consent of everyone involved, no matter where you live – including North Carolina. Your spouse must consent and the child must also consent in North Carolina if she's at least 12 years old. Her other parent doesn't necessarily have to agree to the adoption, but the process becomes more complicated if he does not.
Contact your stepchild’s other biological parent, if possible, or have your spouse do so. Explain that you want to adopt his child and find out whether he is willing to surrender his parental rights. If he consents, go online to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website. Print out Form DSS-5190, a “Consent to Adoption by Parent Who is Not the Stepparent’s Spouse." This may sound confusing at first, but think about it – he's the parent who isn't married to you. If he consents to the adoption, he must complete this form and sign it in the presence of a notary.
Your Spouse Has to Give Consent, Too
Print out Form DSS-5189, a “Consent to Adoption by Parent Who is Spouse of Stepparent,” also available on the North Carolina DHHS website. Your spouse must complete the document, indicating that she wants you to adopt her child and that she understands her child’s other parent's rights will terminate with the adoption. Your spouse must have her signature on the form notarized.
Your Stepchild's Consent
Print out Form DSS-5169 from the state’s DHHS website if your stepchild is 12 years old or older. This “Consent of Child for Adoption” confirms that she wants you to adopt her and that she understands her relationship with her other natural parent, the one you’re not married to, will terminate. She must complete this form and sign it in the presence of a notary as well.
The Petition for Adoption
Complete a “Petition for Adoption of a Minor Child (Stepparent)," Form DSS-5162 on North Carolina’s DHHS website. Attach your consents, as well as a copy of the custody order giving your spouse custody of the child, if she has one. This form must also be notarized. File the petition and its attachments with the district court clerk in the county in which you, your spouse and your stepchild reside. If you haven't yet lived in North Carolina for at least six months, you must wait until you’ve met this residency requirement before you can file.
Serve the Other Parent
Serve your stepchild’s other parent with a copy of your petition after it's filed if he hasn't given his consent. If he has, you can skip this step. If you know his address, the county sheriff or a private process server can deliver it to him personally. If you don’t know his whereabouts, contact the court. North Carolina allows you to serve him by publication in a newspaper if you can't find him, but you'll need special forms and permission from the court.
Attend a Hearing
The court will schedule a hearing when your petition has been filed unless you have your stepchild's other parent's consent – in this case, a hearing isn’t necessary. The judge will simply sign your paperwork into a court order, finalizing your adoption, if everyone agrees. Otherwise, he'll decide at the hearing whether the adoption is in your stepchild's best interest after hearing any objections the other parent wants to make.
If your stepchild’s other parent has been absent from the child's life and has not contributed to her financial support for as little as six months before you file your petition, North Carolina considers this “implied” consent to the adoption. The judge will factor this in if the child's other parent objects. It can still be a complex legal battle, however, so consult with or retain an attorney for your best chances of success.