In my practice I represent a large number of stepparents who wish to adopt his/her stepchild. Other than the custodial parent, the stepparent is often the only other parent the child has known. A stepparent may have a close relationship to the child, although no biological relationship. Legal guidance is often sought out of concern over what might happen to the child upon the death of the custodial parent. When a custodial parent dies, custody of the child normally goes to the surviving parent. The stepparent has no legal rights to his/her stepchild. The child may be thrust into an unfamiliar and unstable situation with his or her surviving parent or other relatives, instead of remaining with a familiar stepparent with whom the child shares a bond. To prevent such an outcome, a stepparent, with the consent of his/her spouse, may opt to file for a stepparent adoption.
Among other things, a stepparent adoption requires the consent of the stepparent’s spouse. If the child is 14 years or older, it requires the consent of the child. The stepparent must be fingerprinted (as do all petitioners for adoption in Georgia); however, whether a home evaluation is required is in the court’s discretion. The petitioner’s attorney may ask the court to waive the evaluation, and often a court will in the case of a stepparent adoption.
A parent may surrender his or her parental rights in favor of the stepparent adoption, or the Court may terminate his/her parental rights, after a hearing, based on certain criteria,which may include failure to support the child in the year prior to petitioning for adoption, failure to communicate with the child in a meaningful way in the year prior to petitioning for adoption, abandonment of the child, death of the non-custodial parent, or a parent’s failure or inability to properly parent the child. The Court must also find that termination of parental rights is based on clear and convincing evidence (a high evidentiary standard), and that termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
The parent must be notified of the filing of the stepparent’s adoption petition. The type of notice to the parent depends on whether he or she is a legal parent or not. To determine whether a parent is a legal parent or not depends on a myriad of circumstances (i.e., whether or not the child’s parents were married when child was born; whether or not the child was legitimated at birth or thereafter, etc.). An adoption law attorney will be able to advise you on whether a parent is a legal parent or not under Georgia law and what type of notice must be provided to him/her. (Not providing adequate or proper notice to a parent could place the adoption in jeopardy)
Upon the granting of a stepparent adoption, the stepparent has the same legal rights and obligations to the child as if the child were born to him/her, including rights of inheritance, duty of support, etc. In the event of divorce, the former stepparent (now parent) will have an obligation to support the child and could seek custodial rights superior to that of his/her spouse.
After the adoption, a new birth certificate will issue which may change the child’s name and which will list the adoptive parent as the child’s parent, along with his/her spouse. There will be no mention of the parent whose rights were terminated.
Stepparent adoption is often legal validation of the bond and relationship between a stepparent and child. If you are interested in stepparent adoption, please consult a qualified adoption attorney who can advise you based on your circumstances and Georgia law.