The role of a stepparent is beautiful and unique from any other family role. Biological parents do not get to choose their children, but stepparents do. Their deliberate choice makes their bond with their stepchildren wholly special—at the same time, stepparents are indistinguishable from birth parents in their daily responsibilities. They offer advice in tough times, provide help with school, attend recitals and sports events, and everything else a birth parent does.
That’s why many of them are choosing to adopt their stepchildren. Stepparent adoption is often easier and faster than other adoption processes—home visits and other legal requirements are usually waived because your stepchild is already living with you. However, there are some exceptions, as noted below.
Read on to learn more about stepparent adoption from our New York adoption lawyer.
Why You Should Adopt Your Stepchildren
For many stepparents, they’ve been raising their spouse’s child since infancy. For all intents and purposes, they are the parent. Why care about the legal label? For one thing, you cannot overestimate the power of a symbolic and formal process. Making your de facto child your legal child is an emotional tectonic shift—it says that you’re here to stay, and that your love and your relationship is in no way different from a birth parent’s relationship.
There are legal benefits as well:
- Entitles you to make legal decisions on their behalf
- Gives you parenting rights in the event of a divorce
- Eliminates the influence of a harmful or neglectful birth parent
- Makes moving or making life-changing decisions easier
- Preserves your parental status if your spouse dies
The First Step to Adopting Your Stepchild
The first and primary step is to obtain consent from both birth parents, per New York’s requirements. Since your spouse is presumably one of the birth parents, in practical terms that means convincing your spouse’s ex to terminate their parental rights. In many cases, that’s not as difficult as you might think. Terminating parental rights means no longer being obligated to pay child support—for many birth parents who are out of the picture, this is enough reason to give consent.
However, you do not require a birth parent’s consent if they can be proven to have abandoned their child or be neglectful, mentally ill, or unfit as a parent. New York has a stricter standard of abandonment than other states—if there has been no communication or financial support between your child and their birth parent for 6 months, the state considers your child “abandoned.”
When You’re Facing an Abusive Birth Parent
Proving abuse, unfitness, or neglect if your child’s birth parent is still around is another story.
In this case, adoption can be a genuine legal battle. That level of litigation is both emotionally costly and complex. You’ll have to gather evidence of wrongdoing and take your child’s birth parent to court to prove their unfitness. Your child may have to testify. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue adoption—it just means that you’ll have to be honest about the process beforehand. New York family law doesn’t like to terminate parental rights against the parent’s will, but they will do it if it’s in the child’s best interests.
As New York adoption attorneys, it’s our job to prove what’s in your child’s best interests—and in most cases, what’s best for them is to have two attentive, loving, and involved parents. Not just one.
If you’re thinking about adopting your stepchild, call Peter L. Cedeño & Associates, P.C. for a free consultation. We’ll help you learn about the steps to adoption, the obstacles you’re facing, and how our experienced family law firm can help.