Adoption is a serious step, whether you are married to the child’s parent or not. It is not to be taken lightly or viewed as a gesture to integrate a blended family better. If you adopt a child, you are legally their parent. If you divorce the child’s parent or they pass away, that responsibility remains. We have helped many Bucks County clients work through the details of adopting a stepchild to ensure they are making the best decision for all involved.
Marrying someone may not just mean starting a new life with your spouse. Their children from one or more prior relationships may also be part of the deal. Adoption may be an option if you want or need to have the ability to make parental decisions for the child.
What is the Process to Adopt My Spouse’s Child?
A stepparent adoption is considered a kinship adoption, so some Pennsylvania statutory requirements are waived. As part of the process, you do not need to have a home study done, but you must have three background checks before filing an adoption petition:
- Child Abuse History Clearance
- Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check
- FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare
Your spouse and the child’s other natural parent would join as petitioners in the adoption matter. Before you can adopt a child, the parental rights of the other biological parent need to end. The other parent may consent to that, or it may have already occurred because they voluntarily gave up their rights or involuntarily had them taken away in the past.
If the parent is giving up their rights because you are adopting their child, there needs to be at least thirty days from a consent being signed and when your adoption petition is filed with the court. That delay exists because the other parent has thirty days to change their mind and revoke their consent.
The situation will be more complicated if the other parent’s rights must be involuntarily terminated. The adoption petition will list the grounds for the court to act. You will get a notice of when the hearing will take place after filing the petition. You must notify the parties involved beforehand, per state statute.
What are Issues I Should Consider Before Adopting?
There are pros and cons to adopting a stepchild. Each situation is unique, and you must decide what is right for you, your spouse, and, most importantly, the child.
If you have your own kids, all children in the household will have the same status. It may just formalize the reality that you are committed to parent this child. Adoption may be a good idea if the other natural parent neglected, abused, or abandoned the child. You will give the child what that parent has not––love and support. Without that adoption, if that person still has parental rights and your spouse passes away, that abusive parent could make all the decisions for the child unless you adopt them.
Adoption is a lifelong commitment to ending the legal bond with the biological parent. Adoption may not end the tension that can come with a struggling blended family. You should not adopt if you think this is how to control or correct a child’s behavior. You may have all the paperwork done to be a parent legally, but that does not mean the child will accept you as one.
You should not adopt if you have doubts about the duration or health of your relationship with the child or your spouse. If you adopt, your marriage’s end will not impact the fact you are the child’s adoptive parent. If the child is not on board with the adoption and does not want you as a parent, you should seriously reconsider adoption if it forces the issue.
We Can Help You Achieve Your Goals
If you are a child’s stepparent and are thinking about adoption, we can talk about the legal and practical issues so you can decide if it is the right thing to do. If it is, a Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., attorney can help you through the process so it goes as smoothly as possible. Book a 15-minute consultation by filling out our online form so we can start the discussion.