Adoption for Stepfamilies
I Kid You Not!
Stepparent adoptions may sometimes permit the non-custodial parent to continue to have visitation rights after the adoption. Grandparents also sometimes retain visitation rights, especially if the adoption occurs after the parent's death.
Filing the Petition
After the child is free for adoption, you must file a petition with the adoption court. Your adoption petition (which your lawyer will help you draft) will supply this information:
- Your name, address, age, date of marriage, and other details.
- A description of the relationship between you and the child to be adopted.
- The legal reason that the birth parent's rights have been terminated. This is either because he or she gave consent, or is the result of your Termination of Parental Rights case.
- A statement that you, the adoptive parent, are the best person to adopt this child. (This is where you may include the length of time you and your stepchild have been living together.)
- A statement that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. You may need to justify this (your lawyer will advise you).
You (and your lawyer) will also include in your packet the consent forms (or the court order terminating parental rights) and the official name change request, if you're changing the child's surname.
I Kid You Not!
In most states, you can change your name simply by using it in all aspects of your life. You can call yourself anything you want, unless it's rude or intentionally confusing, capitalizes on the name of a famous person, or is chosen with attempt to defraud. Even though your stepchild or adopted child can use any surname she wants, she may have trouble getting it accepted for medical, school, or other identification reasons. It's a simple process (especially during an adoption) to file a name change request with the court.
When the petition is filed, it will be a few months before your hearing. Some adoptive stepparents are free to sit back and wait until then; others need to jump more legal hoops to establish that they are “fit” to be parents. In these situations, stepparents must pass the home study and the waiting period.
Are You Fit?
Okay, you're physically fit. You can bench press 250 lbs. and run three miles without becoming winded, but does that make you legally fit to be a parent? In most adoptions, being declared “fit,” which includes a home study and waiting periods, are part of the standard process.
Most stepparent adoptions skip this “fitness” step. I repeat: Most people will not need to be declared “fit” as parents. In some cases, especially in the case of second-parent adoptions or if your adoption is being contested, you will need to be declared a fit parent, and go through the home study process. I'm including the information here just in case.
The Home Study
The need for a home study is determined by the situation, your state, and who lives in your household. Home studies and waiting periods are often waived if the adoption is uncontested and if it's just you, your partner (the bioparent), and the child at home.
The home study is an investigation of your home life to verify that you are fit to raise a child. It's conducted by a state agency or licensed social worker. If you are required to prove your fitness, the agency worker or social worker will tour your home and will ask you questions. She'll then prepare a short report for the court, to be reviewed with your petition, name change request, and so on. (Some states don't require the home study to be submitted to the court; then it's up to the agency or social worker to determine your fitness.)
What will they look at?
- They'll try to determine if your partnership is stable.
- They'll look into your health record, both physical and mental.
- They'll look at the money: how much you have and, more importantly, whether your financial situation is stable. (No, you don't have to be rich; they just want the situation to be adequate and safe.)
- They'll check out your lifestyle (and they'll prefer that it be moderate).
- They'll look at how many other kids you have, and where everybody sleeps.
- They'll check out your career obligations.
- They'll check whether you have a criminal record.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? Relax! Besides the fact that your life is under scrutiny, the home study is not so bad. It's not an adversarial situation. The social worker is interested in creating, not foiling, adoptions, and the report written should reflect all the wonderful strengths you bring to the child's life.
I Kid You Not!
Here's more about Cinderella's evil stepmom: Cinderella's dad dies, leaving Cinderella an orphan. Her stepmom did not adopt her but kept her on out of pity—and the need for a good housemaid. (It's so hard to get good help these days!) On the other hand, was there stepparent adoption back then?
The Waiting Period
This is a waiting period between the home study and the adoption hearing. In non-stepparent adoptions, the child begins to live with the adoptive parents, and visits are conducted by the adoption agency or by the state. In stepparent adoptions, this period is often waived.
The Adoption Hearing
The adoption hearing is sometimes perfunctory and sometimes waived for stepparent adoptions. In this step, the judge reviews the adoption petition, the home study report, and the name change petition and then signs the papers. You'll get your Final Decree of Adoption, and the child's name will be changed (if that's what you requested). You are now legally the parent! Pop the champagne for you and the sparkling apple juice for your child! (Careful, don't spill them on the newly minted birth certificate.)
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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