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Divorce Library – Stepparent Adoption

A stepparent who is married to a birth parent with custody and control of a minor child may adopt the minor child through a Stepparent Adoption. A minor may be adopted by an adult who is at least ten (10) years older than the child. There is no requirement that the stepparent and the birth parent be married for a specific amount of time. However, it is recommended that about a year passes before making a stepparent adoption request to ensure that the marriage is on a solid foundation.

Procedurally, the stepparent adoption process is simple. The stepparent must file an adoption request. The birth parent who is married to the stepparent must “join” this request. If the absent parent is not deceased, then the stepparent and remaining birth parent must seek to either terminate the absent parent’s parental rights or request the court order that the adoption proceed without the absent parent’s consent. There are many different procedures available to terminate the rights of the absent parent. In most cases, the absent parent is required to receive notice that the stepparent and remaining birth parent have requested the Court to terminate their parental rights.

The general rule is that if an absent parent has failed to support the child for a year or longer or if the absent parent has not visited or maintained contact with the child for a year or longer, the parental rights of that absent parent may be terminated. There are several bases to terminate a parent’s parental rights, but the failure to support or visit for over one year is the most common. In most cases, the Department of Health and Human Services will perform an investigation and recommend whether the Court should terminate the absent birth parent’s parental rights.

If an absent birth parent objects to the termination of their parental rights, the Court must hold an evidentiary hearing or trial regarding whether the Court should terminate the absent parent’s parental rights. The Court will appoint an attorney to represent the child and the absent parent.

If the absent birth parent’s parental rights are terminated, the Court must wait sixty (60) days to finalize the adoption as the absent birth parent has the right to appeal the Court’s decision for sixty (60) days.

During the adoption process, the Department of Health and Human Services will perform an investigation of the family requesting the adoption. There is a fee for this. The family is required to have certified copies of the birth certificate(s) for the child(ren), certified copies of any death certificates, and certified copies of any dissolution or divorce judgments for any prior marriages of both the stepparent and remaining birth parent. During the investigation, the child is interviewed and the parents are interviewed to determine whether the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interests. If the child is old enough, the child must be made aware that the stepparent adoption is taking place, even if the child is unaware that the stepparent is not their biological parent. This can be a difficult issue in many cases.

When the appeal period has passed and the Stepparent Investigation is completed and a report issued, the Court will hold an adoption hearing to finalize the adoption. Children over the age of twelve (12) must consent to a stepparent adoption and sign a consent at this hearing. This hearing is a joyous and happy occasion for all involved. The Court allows for family members and friends to attend the proceeding and the family may take pictures to memorialize the event. The parents receive a minute order from the Court to document the completion of the adoption. The State of California will then send the parents a new birth certificate for the child; however, this can sometimes take six (6) months to a year after the adoption is finalized. For more information, please contact Sara Neumann.

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