When a child is born, the biological parents have certain rights and responsibilities towards the child. California law promotes keeping children with their parents provided it’s in the best interest of the child. However, this rights and obligations are sometimes terminated by the court or sometimes a parent gives up the rights to their child voluntarily. In cases involving divorce and remarriage, the stepparent can be allowed to adopt the stepchild and take up the rights and responsibilities of the biological parent as provided under California Family Code Section 8616. It is not possible for all stepparents to succeed in adopting their spouse's child but, a lot of them do, making such adoptions the most popular in the United States.
The state of California has more lenient stepparent adoption requirements. This could be attributed to the fact that at least one of child’s birth parents is taking part in the child’s upbringing and the stepparent is familiar with the child. This implies that the need to adopt must have been informed by the cordial relationship that they already share. For a stepparent adoption to push through, the law requires the birth parent and stepparent to be in a legal marriage or in a registered domestic partnership. If you are a stepparent interested in adopting your stepchild, please contact San Diego Family Law Attorney at 619-610-7425. We are looking forward to hearing from you and offering the many possibilities that we can to help you achieve your goal.
What Is a Stepparent Adoption?
A stepparent wishing to adopt a child of the domestic partner or stepparent’s spouse can file a request with the family law court petitioning to establish themselves as their stepchild’s legal parent under California Family Code section 9000. Filing this request simply means that you are requesting the court for an approval that will give you the legal obligations to your stepchild. Once the adoption goes through, you become the legal parent of your stepchild and from that point on, you will be liable for his or her safety, well-being and health.
Before your stepparent adoption request can be approved, there are several procedures that the family law court will conduct. For situations where both birth parents are alive, getting their consent is vital. An investigation will also be conducted by the court in order to ascertain that you qualify to be the child’s legal parent. The family law court, under California Family Code section 3020, seeks to ensure that the child continues to enjoy frequent and continuing contact with both birth parents. Getting a stepparent adoption becomes very hard in situations where the other biological parent is against the process. Therefore, enlisting the services of San Diego Family Law Attorney is very crucial if you are determined to pursue this legal issue.
Eligibility to be a Stepparent
A stepparent adoption, under California Family Code Section 8548 is described as an adoption that allows one of the biological parents to retain the custody and rights to make important decisions regarding the child. For you to qualify for a stepparent adoption, you must be in a marriage or registered domestic partnership with one of the biological parents of your stepchild. If you’re not either married or in a registered domestic relationship with one biological parent of the child, you have no legal position to petition for a stepparent adoption. While the main law that governs courts in stepparent adoption is provided in Family Code Section 9000, other laws are also looked into before a stepparent adoption is granted. The complexity of this adoption process usually begins once the requirements of Section 9000 have been met.
Deciding What is in the Child’s Best Interest
The presiding judge in a stepparent adoption case will always endeavor to grant what is in the child’s best interest at every stage of the procedure. The court will be guided by California Family Code Section 3011 in making all rulings that affect the legal status of the parents or custodial arrangements directly, and to decide whether allowing an application is in the child’s best interest. Section 3011 lists several factors that are used to make such determinations:
- Your stepchild’s health, safety, welfare, and age;
- The adequacy of the living arrangements of your stepchild;
- Any history of domestic violence by you or the birth parents;
- The emotional relationship between you and your stepchild, and between the child and the biological parents;
- The birth parents’ ability to provide care; and
- The amount of time that your stepchild has spent with you and the birth parents
In practice, the process of attaining a stepparent adoption is more intricate and evaluating what is in the best interest of your stepchild is just a tip of the iceberg. This standard is just a guideline that is followed by the court when assessing every element of your stepparent adoption case.
Changes in the Family Relationship
In a stepparent adoption, the non-custodial birth parent in the child’s life is being replaced by the stepparent. This means that the stepparent takes up all the duties and obligations of the birth parent. In the event that the stepparent divorces the custodial birth parent, it will be the stepparent’s responsibility to support the child and will also be eligible for visitation rights and parental custody. If you choose to adopt your stepchild, you must be able to recognize the emotional, financial, and legal benefits and impacts that your action may have in creating a close family unit.
Legal Paperwork for Adoption
Filling the legal paperwork for adoption can be a complicated endeavor. You now more than ever need the services of an attorney to ensure that you have the correct forms, you have filed them properly, and have made copies of each. When you retain us to provide legal counsel and assistance on this matter, we will evaluate your paperwork thoroughly before you file it with the court clerk. For stepparent adoption, the following adoption forms are required:
- Request form,
- Agreement form, and
- Order form
After filling all the relevant forms, a copy of the approved paperwork should be served to the other birth parent of the child. In this case, the other biological parent must agree to the adoption and the stepparent interested in adopting the child must be legally eligible. However, if the other parent had failed to provide child support or had abandoned the child for over one year, their consent may not be needed.
Obtaining Parental Consent
Once you've served the other birth parent of stepchild with the petition for stepparent adoption, you must obtain their consensus to the adoption. It can be a very sensitive matter to ask a biological parent to permanently give up their parental rights and responsibilities to their child. You can be able to determine how difficult the process will be by gauging whether the other birth parent is willing to transfer their parental rights. If he or she gives you the consent, you will be able to move to the next step which involves filing your petition. However, if the other biological parent is not willing to give their consent, you will bear the burden of requesting the court to terminate the parental rights of that parent.
Your Stepchild’s Age May Be Considered
After the rigorous process of obtaining approval to end the other birth parent’s parental rights, you still may have to get the consent of your stepchild for the adoption to be granted. In California, a child who is 12 years or older must consent to the adoption. However, no consent is sort from children below the age of twelve. But this does not exempt the court from taking into consideration the child’s age when deciding what is in the best interest of the child. To have an efficient and smooth process, ensure that you speak with your stepchild about the meaning of adoption and the adoption process. It can be very frustrating to go through every step of the process and be blocked at the end because the child is not willing to enter into such an arrangement. If you do not fully understand the whole concept of adoption and the process involved, talking to a skilled stepparent adoption attorney will be the best course of action in helping you communicate with your stepchild and prove to him or her that the adoption will be in their best interest.
Termination of the Other Biological Parent’s Parental Rights
For the court to terminate the parental rights of the other birth parent, it should be convinced that the adoption will be in the stepchild’s best interest. Also, there should be enough reason provided as to why the other birth parent should no longer enjoy these rights. Reasons that may justify termination of parental rights can include:
a. The other birth parent has not honored their rights duties that come with parental rights for a long time. Such obligations include paying child support and visitations.
b. Pursuant to California Family Code Section 7822, the other birth parent is considered to have abandoned your stepchild if:
c. He or she went away for over one year and did not communicate with the child for that period but instead left your stepchild under the care of your domestic partner or spouse.
d. He or she went away for over six months during which there was no communication with the child
e. The other birth parent is not fit to be the legal parent of the child. To establish whether this fact is true, the court will apply the standard set out for the child’s best interest in order to gauge who between you and the other birth parent ought to be the legal parent.
The process that involves terminating the parental rights of a birth parent is not an easy one. It becomes even more complex if the other birth parent does not consent to the stepparent adoption, and this means that if you wish to proceed, you will be forced to convince the court to terminate the parental rights. In this case, however, your petition could be denied without the help of a seasoned stepparent adoption attorney.
Interview and Investigation
Before the final hearing, the court will appoint an investigator to conduct an investigation and interview. The investigator can be a licensed family therapist, social worker or court investigator. The investigator will interview you, your stepchild, and your spouse or domestic partner in order to establish whether it will be in the child’s best interest to push through with the stepparent adoption. The investigator will then compile a report on their findings and submit it to the court. A copy of this report will also be made available to you so that you know what the investigator is recommending to the court. It’s on the basis of this report that the court will decide whether to grant the stepparent adoption. This stage that involves investigations and interviews is critical to the success of the adoption request. An experienced stepparent adoption attorney will help you prepare for this stage well in advance to ensure you get the most favorable report for your court hearing.
Guardianship Vs. Stepparent Adoption
Many individuals mistake stepparent adoption with guardianship. These are two different procedures. Guardianship means that the court has ordered someone, who is not the child’s parent to live with the child and make decisions on behalf of the child. However, the biological parents still have the parental rights and can ask to visit the child. A guardianship can be terminated by the court if the parents are able to prove that they are fit to take care of the child. Conversely, when it comes to a stepparent adoption, the parental rights of the other biological parent are permanently terminated.
Contact San Diego Family Law Attorney
If you’ve developed a strong bond with your stepchild and would like to become his or her legal parent, it’s crucial that you retain the services of an experienced stepparent adoption attorney to assist you through every step of this complex process. At San Diego Family Law Attorney, our lawyers will take time to listen and understand your priorities for the case. We’ll also help you understand all your rights and options as well as the law that guides stepparent adoptions. It’s worth noting that the adoption will have effects on the current child custody and support arrangements, and we will fully educate you on all possible implications to ensure you’re fully aware of what you will be getting into. Contact our offices today at 619-610-7425 for a free consultation and to learn more about how we can help.