Stepparent adoption is much more than a symbolic gesture. It changes your legal relationship to a child forever. Adoption can be a precious gift that solidifies your family and gives the child a greater sense of stability and security. It’s also a big decision, and it’s important that both the stepparent and the natural parent have a clear understanding of what’s involved in the adoption process and what adoption means for your family.
At Lincoln & Wenk, we know this can be an exciting time for your family. Our adoption attorneys are here to make sure the legal process runs smoothly, and to support you as you take this step together. The sooner you have thorough, accurate information about the process and what it means for your family, the better. So, call us today at 623-294-2464.
Stepparent Adoption Creates a Legal Relationship
When a stepparent adopts a child, the personal relationship between the stepparent and child won’t necessarily change. While adoption draws some stepparents and children closer together, many choose to pursue adoption because they already have the emotional bond of parent and child. However, the adoption does change the legal relationship. That change can impact both day-to-day life and larger, longer-term issues.
In Arizona, a stepparent has no legal authority over a child. That means that a stepparent can’t register a child for school, authorize medical care, or even sign a permission slip. Adoption changes all that. An adoptive parent has the same rights and authority as a natural parent. This allows a more active role in parenting, and eliminates a distinction that may serve as a repetitive reminder to children that the stepparent isn’t their “real” parent.
That new level of authority carries with it a new level of responsibility–and one that doesn’t end if the marriage to the child’s natural parent ends. For example, an adoptive parent has the same responsibility to pay child support as a natural parent would. And, an adoptive parent who separates from or divorces the child’s natural parent has a right to pursue visitation with the child, or even to fight for custody.
The adopted child also gains a variety of benefits, including the right to inherit from the adoptive stepparent just as a biological child would, and the right to certain benefits, such as Social Security if the stepparent passes away or becomes disabled while the child is a minor.
How Does Stepparent Adoption Impact Biological Parents?
When a stepparent adopts a child, the rights and relationship of the biological parent who is married to the stepparent doesn’t lose any rights or responsibilities. The main change for this parent is that they are now sharing authority and responsibilities with the adoptive parent. In some families, this will make very little practical difference. But, if the biological parent is accustomed to having the final say in issues regarding the child, it’s important for both the stepparent and the biological parent to understand in advance how that may change. Under Arizona law, the adoptive parent and the biological parent will have equal legal authority after the adoption.
The situation involving the other biological parent is very different. When a stepparent adopts a child, the parental rights of the other biological parent are terminated. That means the other biological parent no longer has a right to see the child or be involved in their life. It also means the biological parent is not responsible for child support or other contribution to the child’s care. Of course, the legal parents are free to allow the biological parent to continue some level of relationship with the child if they believe it’s in the child’s best interests. But, the decision is entirely theirs, just as it would be with any person who wanted to spend time with the child.
The Arizona Stepparent Adoption Process
In most cases, the stepparent adoption process is shorter and more streamlined than other types of adoption. That’s because a stepparent adoption generally does not require certification or a placement evaluation.
When a stepparent files a petition to adopt in Arizona, the stepparent must:
- Have been married to the child’s biological parent for at least one year
- Have lived with the child for at least six months
- Have the spouse’s consent to adopt
- Have the child’s consent to adopt, if the child is older than 12
The adoption process is simplest when the child’s other biological parent consents to the adoption. If the biological parent is not willing to sign a consent form agreeing that their parental rights will be terminated, the stepparent cannot adopt unless the biological parent’s rights are involuntarily terminated. That’s a more difficult process if the biological parent decides to fight for their rights.
Terminating Parental Rights
If the stepparent and the biological parent married to the stepparent want to proceed with an adoption over the objection of the other biological parent, they’ll have to file a petition to terminate parental rights. But, the bar is high for terminating parental rights against the parent’s wishes. The mere fact that the stepparent might be a better or more involved parent is not sufficient. Instead, the party seeking to terminate parental rights of the other parent will have to make at least one of several specific showings. Those that most often apply in a stepparent adoption situation include:
- That the parent abandoned the child
- That the parent has neglected or willfully abused a child
- That the parent is unable to fulfill the parental role due to mental illness or substance abuse, and that situation is expected to persist
- That the parent is deprived of civil liberties due to a felony conviction for certain crimes that demonstrate parental unfitness
If the biological parents were not married, parental rights may also be terminated if the possible father failed to take action to establish paternity in a timely manner.
Other Arizona Adoptions
Stepparent adoptions are just one type of Arizona adoptions. The process for certain other adoptions, such as the adoption of a child by a grandparent, aunt and uncle, or other close relatives is similar to the stepparent adoption process. In some cases, it’s even possible to adopt an adult. This requires the consent of the adopted person, and is generally only available if the adoptee is under 21 or is related to the adoptive parent.
Help for Adoptive Parents in Arizona
Whether you are a stepparent hoping to adopt the child you are already living with and helping to raise, a relative pursuing adoption of a child whose parents are deceased or unavailable, or want to formalize your familial relationship with a grandchild you raised or a stepchild who has reached adulthood, we’re here to help.
To learn more about how the adoption lawyers at Lincoln & Wenk can help, call 623-294-2464 right now, or fill out the contact form on this site.