Blended families are quite common nowadays, and the adoption of stepchildren is today easier than ever before. The adoption process gives the step-parent parenting responsibilities and full legal custody of a child. This increases the chances of blended families thriving because both custodial parents can legally make crucial decisions regarding a child’s religion, healthcare, education, and more. While adopting a stepchild is relatively easier than other adoption processes, a small mistake can still cost you dearly. If you cannot afford an unfavorable outcome, turn to the San Diego Divorce Attorney for specialized legal representation. We will better your chances of enjoying the best result, the first time.
Amateur advice from friends or Google can easily lead to the delay or denial of your adoption petition. We have a team of the best family lawyers who specialize in various adoption types in San Diego, CA, including step-parent adoption. With our assistance, you can maintain total compliance with the state laws throughout the process and achieve a favorable outcome.
Step-Parent Adoption Overview
If yours is a blended family, one of the most rewarding decisions you can make is to legalize yourself as your stepchildren’s step-parent. If your spouse has a child or children from another marriage or relationship, you can legalize your position as their step-parent by going through the step-parent adoption process.
California Family Code 9000 allows you to file a petition to make your stepchild your legal child. If your adoption petition is successful, the courts will also award you legal parenting responsibilities and rights. This makes you responsible for the safety, health, and overall well-being of your stepchild.
Under California Family Code 3020, a child has a right to be in frequent and ongoing contact with both biological parents. Obtaining step-parent adoption can be challenging if a child or the other biological parent opposes your plea to become a legal step-parent. In case you are still serious about pursuing step-parent adoption, it will be necessary to work with the best family attorney.
Reasons to Consider Step-Parent Adoption
Adopting your stepchild or step-children is one of the most selfless acts you can do for your blended family. This will show your commitment to your relationship with your spouse or domestic partner and your family unit.
Additionally, successful adoption allows you to be more involved in your stepchild's life and provide all-rounded support. Once you become a legal step-parent, you can make certain vital decisions to set your stepchild for future success.
Other reasons for considering step-parent adoption include:
- To facilitate a name change.
- Consent to healthcare and medical treatment.
- Ensure the security of your family unit.
- Recognition of your role as a step-parent in the child’s life
- To give a child a sense of belonging.
- To legally gain all parental responsibility.
- To cut ties with the other biological parent and their family.
While the above reasons for step-parent adoption seem noble and reasonable, there are crucial aspects you must consider before initiating the due process. The idea is to ascertain that your decision works best for you and your blended family. These aspects include:
- A child’s feelings and wishes
- The sentiments and feelings of the other birth parent
- The potential aftermath of terminating the legal ties between a child and the other biological parent and his/her family
- Your ultimate objectives and their impact on a child
Before starting the step-parent adoption process, it is best to understand what a successful petition means. First, this will end the legal ties between your stepchild and his/her other biological parent and the extended family network. Therefore, the child will not be eligible for any maintenance or inheritance rights from their birth parent.
On the gaining end, your stepchild will be legally entitled to the same maintenance and inheritance rights as your biological children. You will also gain all parenting rights and responsibilities, meaning you will remain the kid’s legal parent even if your marriage with the custodial birth parent doesn’t work. If you wish, and if the courts allow it, your stepchild can have their surname changed to yours.
Who Is Eligible For the Step-Parent Adoption Process?
California Family Code 8548 terms step-parent adoption as adoption by a “step-parent.” In this context, the child/ children in question will remain under the custody and control of one biological parent. For the code to take effect, the step-parent must be married to the birth parent or at least legally registered as their domestic partner.
You don’t qualify for step-parent adoption if you are not in a legally recognized relationship with one of the kid’s biological parents. Various other laws typically come into play under California’s Family Code 9000 that may impact the family courts’ final ruling.
It is usual for cases to develop complexities even if you meet the basic requirements of both Family Code 8548 and 9000. For instance, accepting your plea may be a tricky affair for the courts if a judge has reason to assume that approving your petition is not in the child’s best interests. You must not overlook the importance of working with a skilled and seasoned family attorney if you want to achieve the best results.
Understanding How the Courts Determine the Best Interests of a Child
Even though petitions are typically initiated by a birth parent and step-parent who genuinely love their child, the courts have different systems that determine what is in the best interests of a minor. A judge has the mandate to consider what a kid needs before making a ruling.
Under California’s Family Code 3011, there is a list of factors a judge must consider before coming to a final decision. This is more so if a favorable ruling to the step-parent directly impacts the other biological parent’s legal custodial arrangements.
Here are some of the factors that a judge must take into consideration as listed under Code 3011:
- The age, welfare, safety, and health of a stepchild
- Any domestic violence history of either of the birth parents and the prospective legal step-parent
- The stepchild’s current living arrangements
- The ability of the other birth parent to provide adequately for their child
- The duration a child has spent under the care of the step-parent and either biological parent.
- The emotional bond between a child and step-parent and also with both birth parents
There is more to the step-parent adoption process than merely meeting the legal requirements stated under family law. A judge is likely to use the stipulated standards only as a guide when evaluating a case.
At San Diego Divorce Attorney, we have a team of lawyers with years of experience up their belts. We understand the step-parent adoption process in-depth and can project possible complexities and how to tackle them to ensure a suitable outcome. Before the hearing, we will evaluate each area of your case and provide invaluable guidance about the best course of action.
A Step-By-Step Guide of California’s Step-Parent Adoption Process
Compared to other types of adoption, the step-parent adoption process is arguably the least complicated. This does not mean that the process is always easy and fast. Some cases develop a myriad of complexities that make them confusing and emotionally draining for all the parties involved.
Because the adoption process is already challenging enough, the least you can do is ensure you play all your cards right. Having a competent step-parent adoption attorney in your corner could make the difference between a happy outcome and a complicated, emotionally draining process that drags on for years with minimal chances of yielding suitable results.
Let’s have a look at the steps involved in California’s step-parent adoption process:
Step 1 — Filing a Petition
As with any court process, the first step of the step-parent adoption process in California is to file a petition with the family law court. Your plea should indicate your intent to adopt your stepchild legally. Once you submit it, the courts will assign a date for you to appear for a hearing.
We will help you draft the petition forms to ensure the process’s first phase is a smooth sail. Things are bound to get murky after this, especially if the other birth parent decides to contest your plea.
Once you file, the courts will serve the other birth parent and notify them of your intention to adopt their child legally. While the plea may seem flattering at first, contests often arise because a successful petition means the termination of the parental rights of the non-custodial parent.
Step 2 — Obtaining Parental Consent
Obtaining the other birth parent’s consent to adopt their child and assume all parental rights and obligations is often the most challenging part. This is by far the most sensitive phase of the step-parent adoption process, and it will determine whether your case will be fast and easy or challenging and messy.
If consent is obtained, you can move to the next step-parent adoption step. If it is denied, you need your attorney to help you request the courts to invalidate the other biological parent’s parenting rights. This will not just happen, and a judge needs to ensure that transferring parental rights from one of the child’s birth parents to their step-parent is the best possible decision.
When Can The Court Terminate The Parental Rights of The Other Biological Parent?
For the court to terminate a biological parent’s parental rights, you must justify why you are better off being the child’s legal step-parent. Some of the justifications your attorney may use include:
- The other birth parent is an absentee who has failed to exercise parental rights for a considerable while.
- The other parent fails to be a fit legal parent and hardly matches the standards deemed to be in the best interests of your stepchild.
- The other parent is seen to have abandoned the child as per the terms stipulated in California’s Family Code This is when:
- The parent in question has cut communication with your stepchild or the custodial parent for more than one year.
- The other biological parent abandoned the child with someone else for over half a year without making communication efforts.
Terminating the parenting rights of a birth parent is never an easy affair. The process is complex whether you can table the above justifications or not. You may also face challenges if a stepchild refuses to consent to the adoption process. If you still wish to pursue the case even with these difficulties in place, you must have a seasoned step-parent adoption attorney in your corner. The expert will fight to reduce the odds of the courts denying your petition.
Is The Step of Your Stepchild a Factor During The Step-Parent Adoption Process?
Even if the other parent gives consent to terminate his or her parental rights, the fight is far from over. You may still need to seek approval from your stepchild to adopt him/her and become a legal step-parent. This is a requirement under California’s laws if the stepchild is at least 12 years old.
When a stepchild is under 12 years, seeking their consent for adoption is not necessary. The child’s age will be a critical determining factor that the courts will use to decide whether step-parent adoption is in their best interest.
As aforementioned, the step-parent adoption process may present unforeseen challenges at one point or the other. This makes it imperative to seek legal guidance from a skilled lawyer.
We always recommend finding out early in advance whether a child and the other birth parent will consent to the step-parent adoption process. While the courts can terminate the other parent’s parenting rights, the process may be stopped if a child above the age of 12 fails to give their consent.
Step 3 — Adoption Investigation
Once you obtain consent from the other birth parent or the courts terminate his/her parenting rights, you can move forward to the next step. This phase involves a licensed family therapist, court investigator, or a social worker who will interview you and the custodial parent of a child to establish whether a successful step-parent adoption will work in the best interests of a child.
The therapist, investigator, or social worker will then generate a report detailed with findings that will be forwarded to the court for assessment. A copy of this report will also be sent to you to inform you about the recommendations made and generally help you prepare for the final court hearing.
It remains crucial to note that there is a fee for the investigation process. In San Diego County, one has to settle an investigation fee of $270 to obtain a court investigator’s services. This is quite affordable, considering that the investigation fee is $700 in Los Angeles County.
Working with a court investigator is often slow because you need to wait for the available expert. To speed things up, you have the option of hiring a licensed social worker in San Diego County at a fee of about $700. The expert will undertake your references and checks and provide a detailed report about:
- Your stepchild
- The birth parents and other family members
- Alternatives that may be considered instead of adoption
- The projected impact of step-parent adoption on a child and both biological parents
- Whether all the circumstances presented are likely to work in a child’s best interest.
Again, the step-parent adoption process’s outcome may be highly at the mercy of your preparedness to meet with the court investigator for an interview and investigations. We can help you prepare for this to better your chances of obtaining a favorable report for the final court hearing.
Alternatives to Step-Parent Adoption
In some cases, the step-parent adoption process doesn’t offer the most suitable option for a family. If this is your case, there are alternatives you may consider. They include:
When it is in the best interests of a child to maintain ties with the other biological parent, then you and the parent in question can agree. The idea is to formalize a kid’s place in your family and still legally deal with pressing aspects like:
- Where the child will live and with whom
- The amount of time a child will spend the other birth parent and extended family
- Allocation of parenting responsibilities
- How a child will maintain communication with the other birth parent and other relatives like grandparents
- How you will handle aspects regarding welfare and general care
Change of Surname (Family Name)
If you aim to give your stepchild a sense of belonging, you can achieve this by considering a surname change. This will ensure all your children have uniform surnames and eliminate the awkwardness of explaining a child's identity in schools or organizations.
Another arrangement that may work better than step-parent adoption is making provisions for your stepchild in your will. Such a move ensures that the child gains the right to inherit your estates, just like your biological children.
With this arrangement, your stepchild will also not miss out on their right to obtaining inheritance from their birth parents and grandparents. Step-grandparents are also allowed to make separate provisions in their final wills to their beloved step-grandchildren.
Find a San Diego Divorce Attorney Near Me
Even if you legally marry your spouse, you are under no obligation to adopt their biological child or children. The voluntary assumption allied with step-parent adoption makes the process pure and touching because of its impact on the involved child’s life. At the San Diego Divorce Attorney, we take the adoption process seriously, ensuring you can enjoy some peace of mind knowing that a compassionate and dedicated team is standing behind you. One of our profession’s greatest joys and rewards is to see a step-parent successfully adopt their beloved stepchild. Call 858-529-5150 for a free consultation, and let us join you in your journey to making your blended family whole.