Many people adopt children to complete their families, and the law sets out a rigorous process to complete a legal adoption from outside your family. However, the rules change slightly if you want to adopt your stepchild. If this is something you’re considering, you should consult with a Maryland adoption lawyer as soon as possible to review the process.
Many stepparents grow very close to their stepchild, and they might be a primary parent in the child’s life. However, if the marriage ends in divorce, the stepparent has few rights to see the child or be involved in their future. Many stepparents adopt stepchildren to secure rights to physical custody, decision-making, and more should their marriage end.
Both of the stepchild’s biological parents must agree to the adoption for it to proceed. The parent who is married to the stepparent is generally on board with the adoption going into the process. However, getting the other biological parent’s consent can be challenging. This is because they must give up their parental rights for the adoption to occur.
There are a few exceptions to the consent requirement:
- The parent has abandoned the child for at least 12 months
- The parent engaged in neglect or abuse of the child
- The parent is incarcerated
- The court finds the parent unfit to be a parent to the child
An experienced lawyer can help to prove any of the above circumstances to the family court. If none of these exceptions apply, gaining the necessary consent might be the biggest obstacle to the adoption. Some parents are willing to forgo their rights, however, to be able to stop paying child support and other obligations. Others might think that the stepparent is a better legal guardian, especially if the biological parent has largely been absent from the child’s life.
If the child to be adopted is age 14 or older, they must agree to be adopted. They must demonstrate that they understand the implications of the adoption, including that their other biological parent will no longer be a legal parent to them. The child must provide written consent for the adoption to proceed.
Once you have the necessary consent, the rest of the process is usually easier than adoptions from outside your family. This is because the stepchild’s biological parent is already part of the household and has consented to the stepparent adoption. In most cases, you will not need to undergo home visits and investigations, multiple court hearings, or waiting periods. Instead, the family court can approve the adoption if you have the requisite consent from all necessary parties.
Getting a lawyer is not required by law for a stepparent adoption, though it can certainly make the process go smoother. A lawyer can address all consent issues, including proving to the court that obtaining consent is impossible (with an absent parent) or unnecessary (with an exception). Never hesitate to learn more about stepparent adoption attorneys in your area.