Benefits of Stepparent Adoption
When a child is adopted by a stepparent, he or she has the legally equal relationship between the stepparent as with his or her own biological parent. There are many reasons for a stepparent adoption, including the following:
- If there is no stepparent adoption and something should happen to the child’s biological parent, the child could conceivably be removed from the stepparent’s care (even if the child has virtually been raised by the stepparent for many years), placed with relatives or even in a foster home.
- When a stepparent legally adopts a child, the stepparent’s name can be placed on the child’s birth certificate.
- If the child becomes ill, a legal stepparent is allowed to consent to medical treatment.
- A legal stepparent is entitled to any parental benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, including taking leave to care for the child.
- Should the legal stepparent and the biological parent divorce, the child could be entitled to financial support from the adoptive stepparent, and the adoptive stepparent could be entitled to visitation rights with the child.
- Once a child is legally adopted by a stepparent, he or she could qualify for Social Security benefits under disability benefits the stepparent receives.
- If a stepparent has a work-related injury and is receiving workers’ compensation benefits, the adopted child may be entitled to certain workers’ compensation benefits as well.
- The legal stepparent can put the adopted child on his or her healthcare insurance received through an employer.
Stepparent Adoption Gives the Stepparent All the Rights and Responsibilities of a Biological Parent
When a stepparent adopts his or her spouse’s child, the stepparent then becomes the child’s legal parent, with all the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent. Stepparents can be an integral part of a child’s life in the same way a stepchild can become an integral part of the stepparent’s life. In some circumstances, the stepparent becomes as important to the child’s life than his or her biological parent.
In some situations, the child’s biological parent may have given up his or her parental rights. In other situations, the child’s biological parent may not have exercised his or her parental rights, therefore, the court determines it is in the best interests of the child to terminate those rights. If this is the case, stepparent adoption can be a major step in furthering the relationship between the stepparent and the child.
Stepparent adoption is actually the most common form of adoption, and, as noted, the result of a stepparent adoption is that the stepparent will now have financial and legal responsibility for the child. Under Georgia law, a stepparent is only allowed to adopt a stepchild when the parental responsibilities of the biological parent have been terminated. The agreement of the custodial parent is also a requirement for a stepparent adoption. (If the biological parent is deceased, then only the agreement of the custodial parent is required).
Terminating Parental Rights in an Adoption
There are essentially two ways in which parental rights can be terminated. The biological parent can voluntarily give up parental rights, or, if the relinquishment of those parental rights is not voluntary, the court will determine parental rights. The court will never terminate a biological parent’s rights simply because a stepparent wishes to adopt the child. Courts only terminate parental rights under extreme circumstances.
One of those extreme circumstances would be abandonment of the child by the biological parent. The court would have to find that the biological parent made no attempt to contact or communicate with the child and had no justifiable cause for this failure to contact or communicate. If there were attempts made at communication by the biological parent, those attempts must have been “meaningful, supportive and parental,” to be considered significant.
If the biological parent failed to provide financial support for the child, despite being required to do so by a judicial decree or under the law, this could also be grounds to terminate parental rights, however, the failure to support would have to be of significant length. In other words, a parent who misses a few months of child support would not be in danger of having his or her parental rights terminated. If the court terminates the biological parent’s rights, or the parent voluntarily gives up his or her parental rights, then the stepparent can petition the court to adopt the child.
Process of Georgia Stepparent Adoption
It is crucial that a stepparent who desires to adopt his or her stepchild have an experienced family law attorney to assist. There may be processes such as a home visit, court appearances, and lots of paperwork, all of which can benefit from a knowledgeable Georgia adoption attorney. It is up to the judge in the case to make the final decision as to whether the adoption will be granted.
Prior to filing the actual petition for adoption, you must ensure you meet the Georgia state requirements to adopt the child. You must have been a Georgia resident for a minimum of six months, you must currently live with your spouse (the child’s custodial parent), you must be a minimum of ten years older than your stepchild, and you must have the financial, physical and mental capacity to adequately care for the child.
If you meet all the requirements, the stepparent adoption process includes the following:
- Paperwork must be filed with the court;
- If the biological parent has not surrendered his or her parental rights, then those rights must be terminated for the adoption to proceed;
- Necessary consents, including that of the custodial parent, must be obtained;
- The adoption will be finalized based on state requirements, including a court appearance;
- If desired, a post-adoption contact agreement with the child’s other biological parent can be negotiated, and
- A new birth certificate and social security number will be obtained for the child.
How Alderman & Hutcherson Can Help with Your Stepparent Adoption
If you are considering adopting a stepchild, it is important that you have solid legal advice before beginning the process as well as during the process. The Alderman & Hutcherson attorneys are highly experienced in all aspects of family law, including stepparent adoption. While stepparent adoption is a momentous occasion, it can also be complex and lengthy.
The state of Georgia requires a specific process and none of the steps can be skipped. Contact a knowledgeable Alderman & Hutcherson adoption attorney today to help you with your stepparent adoption. We can help you navigate the adoption process, explain your rights and discuss your potential remedies.