Nicole Quattrocchi | | Categories: Adoption , Business Formation , Contract Drafting & Review

Adopting Your Stepchild, Should You?

A stepparent adoption is not appropriate in every case of a parent re-marrying. While viral videos and recent social media have romanticized the idea with stepparents essentially proposing to step children, this is not often the reality. Each family should carefully consider the long and short term goals, benefits and liabilities with regard to a stepparent adoption before any jewelry is purchased or paperwork is filed.

In any given family, a stepparent adoption can have its advantages. If a natural parent is deceased, a stepparent adoption can seem like the next natural step. It may even seem simple. Sometimes, a stepparent adoption can be a simple process much like a name change. However, this is not always the case.

If a natural parent is deceased and a stepparent adoption is what the family would like to pursue, the stepparent adoption can provide stability for the child in the event that something happens to the stepparent’s spouse as the child’s only living parent. If a child has only one living parent and a stepparent adoption has not occurred and the sole living parent then passes away, the child may not be able to attend the same schools or receive the same medical care because the child is deemed as not having a surviving parent.

Other advantages are also the tax advantage for the purpose of adding a dependent and it can be viewed as unifying the family. However, if a child’s other parent, the parent not married to the stepparent, is alive, a stepparent adoption may not be the right thing to unify the family but may be viewed as dividing it. A natural parent may not want to terminate his/her rights to his/her child, regardless of whether or not he/she has a relationship with the child.

If a child has two surviving parents, a stepparent adoption may not be appropriate. In Florida, a child may only have two legal parents. In order to have a stepparent adoption where the child has two surviving parents, a petition to terminate the rights of the other parent must be filed. In some cases, it may be possible to secure consent from a parent who has not been involved in the life of his/her child or who otherwise does not want to continue the parent-child relationship.

If consent is not an option, then the stepparent and his/her spouse is faced with a contested proceeding. If the non-consenting parent is causing harm to the child, has abandoned the child, has been incarcerated for a long period of time throughout the child’s lifetime or otherwise meets the statutory requirements for a termination, then the other biological parent should move to terminate the rights of the parent involuntarily. It will need to proceed through litigation and the parent should be prepared to present his/her case before any stepparent adoption can occur.

If the non-consenting parent is absent and cannot be found, then the parent must follow the appropriate steps in order to conduct a diligent search in accordance with Florida law and present same to the Court. It will still be up for judicial determination as to whether or not the termination will be granted without the involvement of the non-consenting parent. It’s not impossible, but it may not be easy.

Aside from all of the difficulties related to litigation, before any paperwork is prepared, a stepparent should consider what the adoption of his/her stepchild means. The stepparent will now be fully legally responsible for this child regardless of whether or not he/she continues to be married to the biological parent and this will additionally mean that the child will inherit from the stepparent. After the adoption, the law deems the child to be the child of the stepparent and if there is a divorce, the stepparent could be responsible for paying child support for the child, will be legally required to support the child financially and physically until the child has at least reached the age of majority, and could eventually make life and death decisions on behalf of the stepparent should he/she become incapacitated and there is no surviving spouse.

Whether or not to adopt a stepchild is a personal decision. It’s also a decision not to be taken lightly and one should consider all the possible ramifications. An attorney can provide assistance in this process to help the family decide whether or not a stepparent adoption is the right decision for his/her family. To discuss your options, please contact the Quattro Firm for more information.