Under Virgina adoption laws, stepparent adoption occurs when the spouse of a child's birth parent legally adopts that child. Virginia law categorizes stepparent adoption as a "non-agency placement," in which the other birth parent consents to the adoption and his parental rights are terminated by the court's entry of the final adoption order. Virginia stepparent adoption procedures are relatively straightforward and usually conducted with minimal, if any, complications; however, the law does impose several requirements for accomplishing a stepparent adoption in the state.
Virginia Stepparent Adoption Laws Overview
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Generally, stepparent adoptions are appropriate when a child's birth parent has remarried and the other parent has become estranged from the child geographically and emotionally or is otherwise unfit or unwilling to act as a parent. Often, the new spouse is appropriately filling the parental shoes of the estranged or absent parent, such that the latter is willing to legally surrender all parental rights to the new spouse.
In Virginia, stepparent adoption is the legal procedure for formally accomplishing this transfer of parental rights. Virginia stepparent adoption has the dual effect of permanently terminating the estranged parent's rights and obligations with respect to the child, and designating the stepparent as the child's parent as in the eyes of the law.
Petition for Adoption and Requirement of Consent
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Under Virginia law, a stepparent wishing to adopt his spouse's child must file a petition for adoption in the proper state circuit court. The court will require that the stepparent accompany the petition with a written agreement of consent from the other birth parent, if living. If both birth parent and adoptive parents consent, or if the other parent has died and the remarried birth parent and new spouse consent, the court may proceed to immediately finalize the adoption without referring the matter for home studies or any other further investigation. The court will, however, retain the discretion to order an investigation before a final adoption order is entered.
Requirements in the Absence of Consent to Adopt
If the other birth parent opposes the adoption or if the stepparent is otherwise unable to procure written consent, Virginia law imposes additional procedural requirements. The stepparent must file for and obtain a court order waiving the consent requirement; she must present evidence demonstrating her efforts to obtain consent and the futility thereof, and/or that the other birth parent has essentially abandoned her parental responsibilities and that adoption is in the child's best interests.
Virginia courts are more likely to order investigations in un-consented stepparent adoption cases, but it is neither mandatory nor standard to do so; an investigation will only take place if the court determines that further information is necessary before finally approval of the adoption. If the court deems an investigation necessary, it must enter an order of reference for state agency involvement in the case. At this point, the stepparent and the remarried spouse may be required to submit to home studies and further inquiry.