I was recently asked about the laws and documents surrounding stepparent adoptions. The questions come up quite frequently, so I decided to provide some information about stepparent adoptions and the necessary forms you need to file.
Adopting a stepchild by a stepparent is most straightforward when the biological parent consents. However, it can still be accomplished without the birth parents’ agreement. It’s just more complicated, and if an adopted child is over twelve years of age, their input is considered by the courts.
If you’ve married someone with a child or children from an earlier relationship, it’s common to want to adopt their loved one(s). But there is a lot of information you need to know before you get the process started.
The steps you need to take to adopt your stepchild.
Adopting a stepchild is considered an intrafamily adoption and has the potential to impact family dynamics tremendously. Because of this, governments require specific steps to be completed before granting adoptions.
Communication is key.
The process of adopting a stepchild starts at home. You, your partner, and the child (if mature enough) need to have honest and frank discussions about each of your desires and goals.
The decision to adopt has to be carefully and thoughtfully considered before starting the actual process. As the stepparent adopting your spouse’s child, it’s a personal decision that carries moral and legal responsibilities.
Consider your legal responsibilities.
Once you adopt your stepchild, they are considered, for all purposes, your child. You have established a legal and ethical duty to provide care and financial support to the child until they reach majority.
The adopted child obtains the same legal status as a biological child, including the right to inherit from your estate. Do you have the ability to provide financially and emotionally for your stepchild? Do you want to take on the responsibility of a child? These questions you need to consider before you proceed with adopting a stepchild.
Contact the child’s biological parent.
After deep reflection, discussions with your spouse, and stepchild, you desire to adopt the next step to contact the biological parent. Reach out to the child’s biological parent and inform them that you would like to adopt your stepchild.
Their consent to the adoption is necessary unless their parental rights have been terminated. Getting permission is often a high hurdle to overcome because it requires the biological parent to divulge their parental rights.
If the biological parent agrees, he should sign an authentic act that expresses his desire to consent to the adoption of his child and waive service of notice of any future proceedings. Click here to read the statute.
What happens if a biological parent doesn’t consent to the adoption?
If the child’s biological parent refuses to consent to the adoption or you have been unable to locate them, all is not lost. You can still move forward with the adoption, but you must seek to terminate the other birth parent’s parental rights.
In certain situations, the consent of the biological parent is unnecessary. For example, the court can terminate a parent’s rights if it determines adoption is in the child’s best interests and there is a finding that the parent has unreasonably withheld its consent.
Further, when a stepparent seeks to adopt their stepchild, consent is unnecessary when the parent has failed to support, visit, or communicate with the child for at least six months without just cause. Click here to read the statute.
In Louisiana, courts can also terminate parental rights if the parent has abandoned the child, is unfit, or determine the supposed father is not the biological parent.
What is considered abandonment under Louisiana law?
We often consider terms in their general sense; however, they usually have a specific legal definition. Abandonment of a child is deemed to occur when a parent fails to communicate with or failed to comply with a court order of support for six months.
The process of terminating a parent’s rights starts by filing a petition with the courts. You can click here to read the Louisiana Statute that addresses the termination of parental rights.
File a petition to adopt.
It’s important to know that stepparent adoptions fall under the laws of intrafamily adoptions and are handled differently than agency and other types of adoptions. In the title of your petition, you indicate that this is an intrafamily adoption.
La. Ch. Code Art. 1246 provides a format that you can follow, and states the petition shall be styled: “In re _________________, Applying for Intrafamily Adoption.”
The statute also lays out everything that needs to be in the petition:
- The full name, address, age, occupation, and marital status of each petitioner.
- The name by which the child is known to petitioners and the name under which the child’s birth is recorded.
- The place and date of the child’s birth, if known; if not known, then the approximate age of the child.
- If known, every parent’s name whose consent to the adoption is required under Article 1193(1) and (2) and proof of their consent, or the name of every parent and the reason such consent is not required as authorized by Article 1245.
- The diligent efforts made per Article 1135(B), if the alleged father of the child is unknown, establish that his rights should be terminated according to Article 1135(A).
- The date and circumstances under which the child entered the home of the petitioner.
- Any relationship is existing between the petitioner and the child.
If the biological parent’s parental rights have not been terminated, the petition must be filed with the court, and a notice of hearing must be served on the parent. At this point, the parent can file an objection to the adoption, and a hearing will be held to determine the adoption issue. Here is a link to the notice requirements.
Is there a home inspection?
Typically in intrafamily adoptions, there is no home inspection or investigation of the family home life. However, if anyone raises issues, a court has the right to order an investigation and require the investigating department to provide a report of its findings. Remember, the child’s best interest is always paramount.
What happens at the hearing?
Once the petition for intrafamily adoption is filed, the court will set a hearing within sixty days if there is no opposition. If an opposition is filed, the court will fix it for a hearing within ninety days.
At the hearing, the court will hear all relevant evidence about the stepparents’ fitness to be a parent. The evidence may include the investigation report, the person’s criminal record, testimony about child abuse or neglect, and the parties’ testimony.
And if the adopted child is twelve years old or older, the court may ask the child some questions, including whether they want to be adopted. After considering all the evidence, the court will render a decree of adoption if it is in the child’s best interest.
If you have additional questions about adopting a stepchild, contact our office; we are an experienced family law firm with offices in Hammond and Livingston, Louisiana.
Disclaimer: The Law Offices of Sonja Bradley provide the above information as a courtesy, and it is not intended as legal advice.