Adopting a stepchild is the most common form of adoption.
A stepparent who adopts agrees to be fully responsible for his or her spouse’s child.
After the stepparent adoption occurs, things change for the the non-custodial parent (the parent not living with the child). They no longer have any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.
Procedures are generally simpler than for other types of adoption.
Stepparent adoptions in the State of California requires:
- the stepparent and biological parent must be married over one year before the petition can be filed,
- consent from the non-custodial parent
- a home study will be conducted
- a few additional requirements.
Adoption is one of the ways for a stepparent to acquire Parental Responsibilities and Rights towards a stepchild. However, you must give careful thought before you decide to proceed with an adoption.
Advantages of Adoption
- All members of the family will share the same surname and will be recognized in law as one family unit.
- A stepparent will have the same legal parental responsibilities and rights towards the child as their natural parent.
- The adopted child will share the same inheritance rights as the other children from the relationship.
- The child will no longer have any legal links with their previous family.
Disadvantages of Adoption
Adoption is an irreversible arrangement: the adopted child loses inheritance rights, contact rights and financial support from the other birth parent and their family.
This may not seem important now, but may be important if financial difficulties arose or both parents in the new stepfamily died while the child was still young.
Although you may want to put the past behind you, your child may not.
Children can remain loyal to the absent parent and fantasize about their original family reuniting long after the parents have moved on. Consequently, adoption may feel like a rejection or criticism of their original family.
Adopted children can have feelings of loss because their birth parent “gave them up” to someone else, even if they do not remember them. This can result in feelings of rejection or guilt that the child may find difficult to express.
Other Things to Consider
Adoption can seem like a very positive step that will provide a secure family identity for their child and help them adjust to their new family.
Adoption can only provide legal security for a child and may not provide the emotional stability that many parents and stepparents expect.
Parents and stepparents should carefully consider the possible negatives of adoption, alongside the positives, and whether emotional stability for their child could be provided in other ways.
Therefore you may wish to consider some alternatives to adoption. These can provide many of the benefits of adoption, but without the downsides.
Alternatives to Adoption
If a single family name is your key concern, you can change your child’s family name without adoption. See our leaflet on how to change a family name.
A stepparent can apply for legal parental responsibilities and rights towards their stepchild through the courts without having to adopt their stepchild. Also you can see our leaflet on parental responsibilities and rights for more information.
To ensure your stepchild inherits from you in the event of your death, you need a detailed will outlining your wishes that specifically names each of your children and stepchildren.
Need help with family law and stepparent matters? Contact us.
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