Relative and Stepparent Adoptions
Relative and stepparent adoptions provide an opportunity for persons who are already living together as a family to create a legal parent-child relationship. In addition to the emotional benefits, formalizing your parent-child relationship may make your family eligible for benefits such as a child’s social security benefit, adoption assistance, or a tax credit for qualifying expenses. You should consult a tax professional regarding whether you are eligible for a tax credit due to adopting a child. Adoption may lead to other benefits that are not already in place for the child such as the ability to make medical or educational decisions for the child or the ability to enroll the child on your health insurance.
Adoption also terminates the legal relationship between the child and the child’s biological parents, except in stepparent adoptions where the spouse of the stepparent retains a legal relationship with the child. Unlike custody determinations by the Court, which can be modified, adoption is permanent and not modifiable, even in the event that a stepparent and biological parent later divorce.
Age and Familial Requirements
To adopt a child, you must be at least 10 years older than the child you wish to adopt. You must be at least 25 years old or married and living with your spouse in order to adopt a child. Married persons must adopt a child together, except in stepparent adoptions since the stepparent’s spouse is already the legal parent of the child. If you are adopting a child over 14, the child must agree to the adoption in writing. As part of the adoption, you may change the child’s last name. You may also have a new birth certificate issued based on the adoption decree naming the adoptive parents as the child’s parents.
Notice to the Biological Parents
The biological parents are entitled to receive notice of the adoption except in a few circumstances where the identity of a biological father who is not the legal father is not known to the Petitioner and certain other criteria apply. The Petitioner is required to make an effort to determine who the biological father is by searching the putative father registry. Determining whether legal notice is necessary and conducting a putative father registry search can be complicated, so it is best to seek the advice of an attorney.
Often biological parents will consent to relative caregiver or stepparent adoptions. A biological parent who agrees to an adoption may voluntarily surrender his or her rights to the child. The Surrender of Rights is a formal legal document in which the biological parent gives up his or her rights to the child to the adoptive parents so that the child can be adopted. The Surrender of Rights must be properly executed and supporting documents regarding the execution of the Surrender of Rights must also be executed. If these documents are not properly executed, the Surrender of Rights may be invalid and the adoption may not go through. You should work with an attorney to ensure these documents are properly executed.
Even is a biological parent is unwilling to surrender his or her rights to the child, the Court can still terminate the biological parent’s rights by granting the adoption. In order to terminate a biological parent’s rights in a relative or stepparent adoption case, the Court must find the adoption is in the child’s best interest and that the biological parent has either not communicated with the child in a parental manner or not supported or cared for the child for the year immediately preceding the filing of the Petition for Adoption.
Seeking Legal Help
The Ruthenberg-Marshall Law Firm focuses its adoption practice on relative caregiver and stepparent adoption. We can help you navigate the adoption laws, which are complex and specific to the type of adoption you are pursuing.
For help with your adoption, you can schedule a Legal Clarity Session with The Ruthenberg-Marshall Law Firm by calling 678-435-9069 or contacting us here.