Stepparent adoptions are one of the most common forms of adoption in the United States. Although they typically involve fewer legal hurdles than other types of adoption, stepparent adoptions can still be riddled with emotional and procedural challenges. As family law attorneys, it is necessary to guide our clients through this sensitive journey with the utmost care and expertise. This article outlines best practices for ensuring that the stepparent adoption process is as smooth as possible.
Evaluate the Case:
Begin by understanding the dynamics of the family situation, including the relationship between the stepparent and the child, as well as the relationship with the non-custodial biological parent.
Make sure to evaluate the legal requirements in your jurisdiction for a stepparent adoption to occur. Ensuring this will prevent hiccups later in the trial court where the adoption is to take place.
Inform and Prepare
Inform your client about the need for written consent from the non-custodial biological parent if they are alive and their rights have not been terminated.
Advise your client about state-specific laws that may require additional steps, such as home visits or a waiting period.
Petition Filing and Documentation
Accuracy and Completeness:
Ensure that all forms are filled out completely and accurately to avoid any delays. Gather all necessary supporting documents, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses.
Too often, we like to speak in legalese. This does not serve your client best. You should clearly instruct your clients on what to expect during court hearings and what they may be asked, preparing them for the questions a judge may pose.
Handling Sensitive Issues
Prepare your client for the possibility that the non-custodial parent may contest the adoption. Discuss strategies for how to approach this delicately.
Post Adoption Divorce:
It is well advised (if this is addressed in your jurisdiction), to instruct the adopting stepparent of their potential obligation to pay child support in the event of a divorce between them and the biological parent of the child. Advising the stepparent today may save headaches down the road.
Stepparent adoption can be emotionally taxing for both the child and the parents. Offer emotional preparation advice, such as consulting a family therapist.
The legal process for stepparent adoption is fraught with both emotional and legal intricacies. By following these best practices, you can help ensure that your clients are well-informed, prepared, and more likely to experience a smoother stepparent adoption process.