Stepparent Adoption – How Does It Work?
For many years, most American children lived in “traditional” households which featured a lifelong married mother and father and their pure biological children. In 2013, the percentage dipped under 50 percent. Today, the proportion is less than 18 percent.
Families headed by remarried stepparents make up most nontraditional households. These families face some additional emotional and financial obstacles. In many cases, expedited stepparent adoption helps these families overcome these obstacles.
Stepparent adoptions offer a rare opportunity for Beaufort family law attorneys. They give us a chance to help build a new family from the ground up. The legal work we do strengthens the emotional and financial bonds which already exist. So, the new family we help form is strong indeed. We also help these families deal with the other legal issues in their lives, so they can just concentrate on strengthening those bonds.
Children can only have two legal parents. So, unless one parent is dead or seriously incompetent, a stepparent adoption usually requires a voluntary termination of parental rights. Judges don’t automatically grant these requests. Instead, the natural parent’s termination must be in the best interests of the child. Some factors to consider include:
- Emotional: After a divorce or permanent separation, children and non-residential parents often feel distant from each other. Sometimes, these feelings come and go. If the emotional distance is part of a pattern, the child may not lose much in a termination, from an emotional standpoint.
- Financial: Delinquent child support may be the most common basis for voluntary termination. A new stepparent might or might not fill the emotional shoes of a biological parent. However, a stepparent is almost always capable of filling financial support shoes, especially if the biological parent is delinquent. Additionally, failure to pay support is an independent reason to terminate parental rights in North Carolina.
- Practical: Emotional and financial distance usually follows physical distance. If a non-residential parent feels physically isolated, usually because the child moves, emotional contact and support payments often taper off as well. Judges are more likely to grant voluntary termination petitions if the judge simply rubber-stamps what’s already happening.
Other involuntary termination grounds in North Carolina include neglect or abuse, abandonment for more than a year, violent felony conviction, and a prior termination of parental rights regarding a sibling.
Most agency and private adoptions have at least three phases: a preliminary legal proceeding, a social study, and a final legal hearing. Most stepparent adoptions only have the first and third components.
We discussed the substantive portion of a termination proceeding above. Now, we should look at some important procedural aspects. In general, a Beaufort family law attorney usually has a choice between a voluntary proceeding and an involuntary one.
Basically, termination means the complete end of all parent-child rights and responsibilities. Terminated parents have no legal right of access and no legal right to be notified about piano recitals, high school graduations, or anything else. The complete loss of rights scares some parents so much that they’re unwilling to voluntarily terminate parental rights. Additionally, the moral implications of cutting off relationships with a child is too much for some people to swallow.
For that reason, an involuntary termination proceeding may be the best precursor to a stepparent adoption. If nothing else, an involuntary termination proceeding removes at least some of the moral dilemma.
Generally, at a stepparent adoption proceeding, the judge carefully explains the impact of the proceedings on the adopting stepparent. The new parent-child relationship isn’t just emotional. It’s also financial. Additionally, if the current spouse divorce, the adopting stepparent is legally obliged to pay child support.
One of the biggest benefits of stepparent adoption is that it helps people feel like they’re part of the same family, simply because they all have the same last name. For that reason, a name change petition is often a good alternative to a stepparent adoption.
Biological parents who resist terminations usually agree to name changes. These matters don’t affect visitation rights. Additionally, even if the biological parent objects, the judge could still grant the petition if it’s in the child’s best interests, and such petitions usually are.
On a related note, name changes don’t affect child support obligations, at least in most cases. That’s something to consider, especially if your family counts on these payments.
Contact An Experienced Carteret County Family Lawyer
Most family law matters involve complex emotional and financial issues. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Beaufort, contact Schulz Stephenson Law today!