Stepparent Adoption: Formalizing Your Relationship With Your Children

For many spouses who decide to remarry after a divorce, one of the biggest challenges is cultivating a relationship between their children and the children’s new stepparent. While being a bonus mom or dad comes with many rewards, it can also be a difficult relationship to navigate.

For some, adoption of stepchildren is the final step in a long process toward creating a new family unit, and can feel like a symbol of love and commitment to be there for each other in a permanent, and legal way.

Why Should Cedar Rapids Stepparents Adopt?

Stepparent adoption is a far less expensive and time-consuming process than traditional adoption, as it does not require parents to locate a child to adopt, or deal with the risks of a biological parent deciding at the last moment not to move forward with an adoption. Instead, it is the formalization of an already existing child-parent relationship.

While adoption is not necessary for a stepparent and child to have a strong emotional bond and create a cohesive family unit, it does allow the stepparent to take a greater role in protecting the child, and help ensure that the child will receive important legal benefits were something to happen to the parent. Some examples of the benefits of stepparent adoption include:

  • Ability to be involved in important medical decisions and access to medical records
  • Easier process for inheritance for children
  • In the event of harm or death of the custodial parent, avoids future custody challenges by other family members
  • Allows the parent to claim tax benefits on behalf of the child

For stepparents who play a significant role in the lives of their stepchildren, adoption can also help with other day-to-day tasks, such as the ability to pick up kids from school or daycare, to make educational decisions on behalf of the child, and to travel with the child.

The Stepparent Adoption Process

The first step in the stepparent adoption process is to get the approval of the children’s current noncustodial parent, or to seek to terminate that parent’s rights.

For example, assume a mother and father divorce and their children live full-time with their mother. The mother remarries to a stepfather and the children spend 100 percent of their time with the mother and stepfather. If the father is not involved in the children’s lives, he may be willing to consent to termination of his rights. This termination of his rights ensures that the stepfather can adopt, and lets the bio-dad “off the hook” because he no longer would be responsible for the children, including child support..

Consent must be presented to the court during the adoption process, so as with traditional adoption, there is the risk that consent can be initially given but later revoked. If this is the case, or the parent won’t consent, it will be necessary to terminate the noncustodial parent’s parental rights without their consent.

In addition, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child through the process. This will be an additional expense that must be paid by the adoptive stepparent.

Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of parental rights cannot occur for just any reason, or because the mother no longer wants the father involved in their children’s lives. In Iowa, termination can only occur if the terminating party can show abandonment, neglect, abuse, lack of financial support, or failure to maintain regular contact.

Abandonment and failure to maintain regular contact require an extensive showing that the noncustodial parent has made absolutely no effort to maintain contact with the child, such as not visiting, calling, acknowledging important events like birthdays, or otherwise reaching out. Simply playing a lesser role in the child’s life will not amount to abandonment.

It should also be noted that if a child is older than fourteen years old at the time of the stepparent adoption, the child also has a voice in the process and must consent to the stepparent adoption in open court.

Petitioning for Adoption

Assuming the rights of the biological parent have been terminated, the next step is to file a petition for adoption with the courts. In order to file the petition, the child must have resided with the stepparent for at least 180 days, and the petition must be filed in the county where the parent resides.

The petition process in Iowa is handled similarly for traditional adoptions and stepparent adoptions, but the process is a bit simpler for step-parents.

The stepparent will need to go through the process of having a home visit by the GAL, and for a report to be completed. The stepparent will then need to go through a final adoption hearing before the court.

At the hearing, the court will consider evidence of the noncustodial parent’s willingness to give up legal parental rights and to allow the adoption to proceed, as well as evidence that it is in the child’s best interest to have the stepparent adopt. Assuming all goes well, the court can then finalize the adoption.

Although still a comprehensive process, stepparent adoptions tend to move more quickly than adoptions that involve two entirely new parents.

The Results of a Stepparent Adoption

Once the stepparent adoption is finalized, several things happen. First, the child will receive a new birth certificate that lists the name of the new parent. Second, as a part of the adoption, the child’s name may be legally changed, if the child and the parents want to do so. Third, and most importantly, the new stepparent is legally the father!

An Iowa Family Law Attorney Bringing Families Together Through Adoption

Adoption is a momentous occasion for both the child and the parents. In the case of stepparent adoption, the process does not need to be as complicated and emotionally difficult as people sometimes anticipate.

Experienced family law attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt can give you an overview of the stepparent adoption process in Iowa, the pitfalls to watch out for, and the ways to efficiently and cost-effectively navigate the legal system. If you are considering stepparent adoption and would like more information, contact his office online or at (319) 423-3031.