Table of Contents:
- How to Adopt Your Stepchild in California
- How to Adopt My Stepchild in Georgia
- How to Adopt Your Stepchild in North Carolina
- How to Adopt a Stepchild in Texas
Discuss your intent to adopt your stepchild with the child in question. Even if your stepchild is young, and especially if your stepchild is over 10 years old, you should talk to her to see how she feels about the process. While you and your spouse may be excited about the idea, your stepchild may feel confused, angry or even abandoned by her other biological parent. Talk to your stepchild privately to explain the process and see how she responds. Then, hold a family meeting and allow everyone to ask questions or express their feelings about the potential adoption.
Note that California also requires you to obtain consent from your stepchild prior to the adoption if she is at least 12 years of age, so you stepchild will need to formally agree to the process if she meets the age requirement.
Obtain Form ADOPT-200, ADOPT-210 and ADOPT-215 from the clerk of the family court in your county. You can also download and print the forms directly from the California judicial website (see Resources).
Complete all three forms by filling in your personal information, your spouse's information and your stepchild's information. You will need your stepchild's full name, date of birth and Social Security number to complete the forms. Mark the adoption as a "stepparent adoption" in the appropriate sections. You and your spouse must sign the bottom of all three forms when you are finished. Make a copy of the signed forms and retain the copies for your personal records.
File the original signed forms with the clerk of the family court in the county where you currently reside. There will be a nominal fee--typically, between $50 and $250--that you must pay at the time of filing before the clerk will accept your forms for filing. The clerk will then schedule an adoption hearing and a date for a social worker to conduct an interview in your home.
Complete the in-home interview with the social worker. Your stepchild must be present for the interview. The social worker will conduct a walk-through of your home and interview you, your spouse and your stepchild separately. Once she completes the interview, she will submit her report to the judge for review during the hearing. You will likely not receive a copy of the report until the hearing takes place.
Attend the adoption hearing with your spouse and your stepchild. Bring your copies of the completed forms with you. The court may interview your stepchild privately to determine his wishes. If the hearing goes well, the judge will sign your Form ADOPT-215 (Adoption Order) and the adoption will become final, effective immediately.
A stepparent choosing to adopt a child from his or her spouse’s former marriage is the most common form of adoption in the United States. By adopting, the stepparent becomes fully responsible for the child, freeing the child’s non-custodial parent from all rights and responsibilities, including alimony or child support. The process for adopting a stepchild is simpler than that of adopting a child you have no prior connection to.
Visit the Superior Court in your county to obtain the proper paperwork and learn the current filing fees. Make sure you meet any prerequisites for stepparent adoption. You have to be legally married to the child’s custodial parent, and in most cases you will have had to be a Georgia resident for at least six months prior to filing.
Contact the child’s non-custodial parent to obtain consent for the adoption. If his or her whereabouts are unknown, send a letter to the last known address asking that they send back an agreement in writing to give up their rights as a parent.
Ask the judge to declare abandonment if the non-custodial parent cannot be found and has not made an attempt to contact the child for at least a year. The court will take the abandonment as implied consent. Additionally, if the non-custodial parent has failed to pay court-ordered child support, the court will use this as grounds to terminate his or her parental rights.
File the adoption paperwork with the court, along with a copy of the child’s birth certificate and a marriage license showing that the stepparent and custodial parent are legally married. If written consent from the absent parent has not been obtained, you may be required to run an ad in your local paper notifying them that you have moved forward with the adoption process.
Attend the court hearing on the date set by the judge. The custodial parent, stepparent and child should all be present. If the child is over 14, he or she will have to indicate to the judge that they consent to being adopted by the stepparent.
Attend the final hearing on the date scheduled by the court. On this date, you will receive paperwork legally certifying the adoption and giving the stepparent full rights as a guardian. Give copies of this paperwork to your child’s doctor and school and send one to the vital statistics office in your county to acquire a new birth certificate for your child.
If the child's non-custodial parent contests the adoption, the court may deny the adoption unless it can be shown that the adoption is in the child's best interests.
Home visits by a state worker are not typically required in stepparent adoption cases but the judge may order one if he or she has concerns about the child's home life or if the adoption is being contested.
While it is legal in the state of Georgia to self-represent when filing for adoption, an experienced attorney can help navigate complicated paperwork and court procedures.
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.
Notify the biological parent that your spouse wants to adopt your child. If the parent is no longer a part of your child’s life and you don’t know where he is currently living, then Texas allows for notification by newspaper.
Terminate the parental rights of your child’s other biological parent. In some cases, the parent has no objection to the adoption and will voluntarily sign an affidavit relinquishing his rights. If the parent does object, then it will be necessary to prove to the court that terminating hisrights is in the best interests of your child. This is often the most difficult part of the process because the termination is considered permanent and cannot be undone. A judge would need substantial cause to terminate the rights of an objecting parent, such as the fact that he has never supported your child financially or has been absent from his life for a considerable period of time.
Consult your child if she is over 12 years of age. The adoption of older children requires their consent in Texas. Some judges will also ask that your child undergo a period of counseling to make sure that she understands all the implications of what she is agreeing to.
File a petition for adoption with the court. If the other biological parent has agreed to terminate his parental rights, then you would simultaneously file his affidavit of consent with the petition for adoption. Otherwise, you would need to file two petitions: one to terminate his rights and another to allow your spouse to adopt the child.
Attend the initial hearing. The judge will review your petition and decide whether your child should attend counseling, then he will set a date for a final hearing after a reasonable amount of time for counseling to be completed. If the adoption is contested, the court might also require that your child have his own lawyer, called an attorney ad litem, to represent his interests. A judge will appoint an attorney to act in this capacity, and you will have to pay his fees.
Appear in court for the final hearing. The judge will have to make two findings for the adoption to be successful. He will have to terminate the other biological parent’s rights either by consent or because he has decided that it’s in the child’s best interests. He will also then rule on and approve the adoption. Both of these issues are generally addressed in one hearing.