One of the most critical moments in a child’s life is when a step parent legally assumes the rights, benefits, and obligations of a birth parent. Even though a child might be of minor age to understand, it means a great deal emotionally for the stepchild because adoption is a final stage of becoming a true family. The legal process offers a child legal security when the non-custodial parent is no longer in the picture. Without this form of adoption, it becomes difficult for you, as a step parent, to have any assurance on parenting rights.
If you’re a custodial parent and your spouse has a child or children from former marriages or relations, you can make your position as a step parent legal by adoption. Although the kind of adoption might appear more straightforward than others, a slight omission can be the end of this joyous moment.
For a smooth legal procedure, you must speak to a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer to provide legal representation and ensure you comply with law provisions. We have highlighted the following information to help you understand step parent adoption if you are planning one.
General View of Step Parent Adoption
According to Family Code 9000, if you’re a child’s step parent and desire to adopt a child from your spouse’s previous relations, you can file a step parent adoption petition in Los Angeles County. Once the petition goes through and the adoption becomes final, you assume all the benefits and legal rights that come with a legal or biological parent-child relationship as the adoptive parent. The connection is permanent, and you assume full responsibilities for the minor’s safety, education, healthcare, religion, and overall wellness.
You seek this form of adoption mostly where the child’s biological parent is not involved in the minor’s life. If the other birth parent is involved in a child’s life, it becomes hard to succeed in the adoption process because California FAM 3020 says that a child should stay in constant contact with birth parents. This can make the process challenging if the minor or the non-custodial parent contests the adoption. In cases like these, you must work closely with a divorce lawyer who understands step parent adoption laws.
Benefits of a Step Parent Adoption
Blended families experience many challenges and disputes when raising children, especially when the step parent has no legal rights and responsibilities over the other parent’s child from a previous marriage. The possibility of the blended family thriving increases because both custodial parents can make critical decisions regarding the minor’s life. Other benefits of this type of adoption include:
- The adoptive child can qualify to obtain health insurance and worker’s compensation benefits under your coverage.
- If you suffer a disability, the stepchild will be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits
- If you divorce your spouse, the biological parent of your legal stepchild, the child will still be qualified for your financial support, and you will have custody and visitation rights.
- You become eligible for parental leave.
- If the custodial parent dies or paralyzes, you assume legal custody automatically.
- The adoption gives the minor a sense that they belong to a real family
- It helps the child cut relationships with the non-custodial parent if the parent relationship is unhealthy.
- The role you play in the minor’s life is recognized
- You can facilitate a name change if the petition goes through
Although step parent adoptions have many benefits for the blended family, child, or you, you should scrutinize multiple factors before filing the petition as the step parent. The aim of doing this is to ensure the decision is in everyone’s interests. The elements you must examine are:
- The minor’s emotions and wishes
- The non-custodial parent’s point of view or attitude
- The long-term effects of ending the frequent contact or relationship of the minor with the non-custodial parent.
- Your aim, as a legal step parent and the impact they might have over the child.
Many step or custodial parents rush to file the step parent adoption petition without understanding what ending the ties between a child and their birth parent means. They will lose out on their inheritance or financial support from the non-custodial parent. Therefore, before initiating this process, you must evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of going through the process and go with what will help the family thrive and protect the child’s interests simultaneously.
Requirement for Step parent Adoption
Not everyone is eligible for step parent adoption in Los Angeles. To qualify, you should be a registered domestic partner or wedded to the child’s birth parent. You are ineligible to file a petition if you aren’t in a lawful relationship with the child’s birth parent.
Sometimes, you might have all the requirements needed to file the petition and still be denied the petition if the court has grounds to believe the action won’t be in the minor’s best interests. These cases happen where either the child or the non-custodial parent challenges the petition. If you are not knowledgeable about California Family Code, you should consider talking to a family law lawyer in Los Angeles to obtain a favorable outcome.
Establishing the Child’s Best Interests
Before ruling on step parent adoption petitions, judges must consider what the minor needs. This doesn’t mean parents who initiate these petitions have evil motives. Instead, most are loving birth parents and step parents who want to show love to their child's the best way they know-how, although at times this might not favor the child. Therefore, the court has put systems to establish what works best for the child.
California FAM 3011 provides many aspects judges must consider when ruling on these petitions, primarily where a ruling in your favor directly affects the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child. These aspects the court must consider are:
- Health, safety, wellbeing, and age of the minor
- Any domestic violence criminal record by either you or the non-custodial parents
- The existing living arrangement between the child and the non-custodial parent
- The time the child has been under your care or the supervision of either birth parents
- The ability of the non-custodial parent to sufficiently provide for the child.
- The inner bond that exists between you and the stepchild or child and both biological parents
Having the legal necessities alone is no guarantee your petition will go through. There is more to these cases, and the law only provides standards to guide the judge’s decision.
Luckily, at the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we can examine every aspect of the case, determine potential challenges, and then find appropriate measures to tackle the challenges and ensure the adoption succeeds.
The Process of Step Parent Adoption
An experienced family lawyer will walk you through the adoption procedure carefully during consultation because they understand that although most people mistake step parent adoption as a simple procedure, it has many challenges that can be emotionally overwhelming and confusing. You are discouraged from filing the petition without legal counsel because the case might delay and the outcome might not be what you hoped for. Here's how the process works.
Filing an Adoption Request
In Los Angeles, CA, the step parent adoption process begins with filing a motion with the local family law court. In the plea, you must indicate that you intend to become a legal step-parent. The documents you should file include:
- A copy of your petition
- An authenticated child’s birth certificate
- Authenticated copies of your marriage certificate
- Certified copies of final divorce order previous marriages
- Authenticated copies of previous adoptions orders by the custodial parents
With all this paperwork involved, filing a motion might be a lot of hassle for someone who isn’t familiar with the process. You need a lawyer to assist you in drafting the plea and ensure you submit all the relevant documents. If you fail to file the petition correctly, it might take a lot of time to correct the errors, delaying the adoption process. A lawyer will ensure you do it the right way the first time to streamline the process.
After completing all the required forms, the approved plea copy will be sent to the non-custodial parent, notifying them of plans to take up their legal responsibilities and benefits. The plea is often flattering, and some parents agree to it. Although it might be appealing, the non-custodial parent might contest the petition because it means ending their parenting rights over the child, which some are not ready for.
The process can only proceed if, as the adoptive parent, you qualify for this form of adoption and that the non-custodial parent to the minor agrees. Note that the non-custodial parent cannot contest the petition if they haven’t been actively involved in the child’s life for more than twelve months.
Consent of Birth Parents
Once the non-custodial guardian of the minor is notified of your plea to have parental rights over their child, you must obtain their permission. Parental consent is the most critical phase of this process because it makes the adoption quick and straightforward or slow and messy. Asking non-custodial parents to relinquish their parenting rights over their child or children is not a simple matter. The willingness of the parent to agree to the adoption will determine the complexity of the procedure.
If you’re lucky enough to receive the consent of the non-custodial parent, you can proceed to the following adoption phase. However, when the non-custodial parent disagrees with your move, you must request the court to terminate their parental rights. Besides, you can commence the parental rights termination process if the whereabouts of the non-custodial parent are unknown.
Termination of Parental Rights of the Non-Custodial Parent
You must convince the court that you are a better parent than the non-custodial parent for the court to terminate their parental rights. Further, you must provide evidence to justify why you should be granted these rights, and the non-custodial parent denied the same. The reasons that can explain your plea include:
- The non-custodial parent is an absentee who has absconded their parental rights and responsibilities.
- The non-custodial parent falls below the legal threshold or standards considered to work best for the child.
- The non-custodial parent has abandoned the minor by:
- Not being in touch with your stepchild or your spouse for over twelve months, but rather leaving the child under the protection of your spouse or domestic partner.
- The non-custodial parent disowned the minor for more than half a year without communication.
You might not face challenges from the non-custodial parent, but the child might not agree to the adoption. Even under these circumstances, you can still convince the court to terminate the parental rights.
Age Factor in Step Parent Adoption
If your stepchild is aged 12 years or older, you must obtain their consent for the adoption to succeed. Therefore, even after bearing the burden of terminating the non-custodial parent’s rights, your battle is yet to be won if the stepchild is aged 12 or older. However, for younger children, twelve years or below, no consent is required, although this doesn’t mean the court won’t consider the minor’s age when deciding what works best for the child.
For a streamlined adoption process, talk to your stepchild about your intentions to be a legal step parent and explain what is involved in the process. You will be very disappointed to go through the entire process, and at the end of the day, the child fails to give the go-ahead to the adoption. If you aren’t familiar with the step parent adoption process, talk to your lawyer to explain the process to explain what the concept means and why it is in their best interest to agree to it.
At this phase, the court appoints a social worker, investigator, or family therapist to investigate and question the blended family. The interview and investigations are aimed at establishing if the adoption will be favorable for the child. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) charges $700 to produce the report.
The investigator produces a report and sends a copy with their recommendations to the court. The report contains information regarding:
- Your stepchild
- The biological parents and family members of the child
- Other options that you can explore other than adoption
- The impact of the adoption on both birth parents and the child
- Whether the facts of the case are likely to work in favor of the child
The court relies on the investigator’s recommendations to rule on the case. Therefore, you should be adequately prepared to meet the social worker during interviewing and investigations because your answers to their questions will be reflected in the report. If you don’t know how to prepare for the interview, your lawyer can help with the preparations, enhancing the chances of a positive outcome.
Once the court receives the report, they will set a date for the step parent adoption proceeding. You, your stepchild, and the custodial parent must show up in court. If the non-custodial parent is challenging the adoption, they as well must appear in court.
If the court approves the step parent adoption, the judge will formalize the process by filling in all the relevant adoption documents. The court, in turn, will give you a certified copy of the adoption decree. Also, you will need to submit a VS-44 form to the court to acquire an amended birth certificate for the child. Note that a certified copy, in this case, refers to the composition of the original court decree with a court seal and signature from the judge.
Step Parent Adoption Substitutes
Step parent adoption is not always the best option based on your case’s circumstances. When this is the case, your divorce lawyer can help you explore other alternatives like:
If it is your stepchild’s favor to keep in frequent contact with the non-custodial parent, you can agree with the parent to legalize the child’s place in the blended family and handle all other issues like:
- Issuing of parenting obligations
- Ways of dealing with the child’s welfare and general wellbeing
- How the child will maintain with the non-custodial parent and other family members
- Where and who will live with the child, simultaneously.
Change of Family Name
To make your stepchild feel like a member of your family, you can change the child’s surname to be uniform with all the other children's. That way, the minor won’t feel awkward explaining in school or an organization why their name is different from the others, yet they belong in the same family.
The other way you could provide for the child is by including your stepchild in the will. The child will obtain the prerogative to your inheritance like your blood child's, which is better than step parent adoption.
Find a The Divorce Right Lawyer Near Me
Marrying a spouse with biological children from previous marriages, doesn’t guarantee you the right to adopt the child. However, if the bond is too strong and you want to be their legal step parent, you can initiate a step parent adoption process. At the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we walk you through the process seriously and are ready to help you understand your rights, duties, and options. Reach out to us today at 310-695-5212 for a zero-obligation consultation.