Stepparent adoptions in Maryland occur frequently in “blended families.” The term “blended family” means a marriage after a divorce or other relationship that produces a child. The non-biological parent, or stepparent, adopts a spouse’s child from the previous relationship. In a stepparent adoption, the stepparent assumes both legal and financial responsibility for a spouse’s children. Further, the non-custodial parent no longer has any parenting responsibilities or rights.
Circumstances and Requirements for Stepparent Adoption in Maryland
Many circumstances lead to families pursuing stepparent adoption. In some cases, a mother remarries and her new husband wants to adopt her child or children. Similarly, a father remarries and his new wife wants to adopt his child or children. In other cases, same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships use stepparent adoption to legally formalize their family.
Stepparent adoptions are straightforward with the consent of the birth parents. The stepparent adoption is often accomplished without home studies, waiting periods or adoption hearings in some cases. Obtaining the consent of the birth parent in the future legal family is obviously easy. However, consent of the other birth parent giving up parental rights may be more difficult.
Consent of the Other Birth Parent
Consent is often the most difficult aspect of stepparent adoption. The birth parent must consent to the adoption or termination by the court must be pursued. That person then will relinquish parental responsibilities and rights.
In some cases, a parent voluntarily agrees to give up their parenting rights. In those situations, the parent signs all the required paperwork. Parents do this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the appeal for a biological parent is that the adoption relieves him or her of legal, financial and other child support obligations. Some people willingly acknowledge that fact that parenting is not their best skill. In other cases, the parent believes it is in the best interests of his or her biological child. Parents want their children to be happy and cared for, and if they are unable, due to circumstance, to provide, a stepparent adoption may be ideal. Whatever the reasoning of the biological parent, voluntary consent is the easiest and quickest way to accomplish a stepparent adoption.
When the Other Birth Parent Won’t Consent
Consent is not always easy to secure. A parent may not want to terminate his or her parenting rights and responsibilities. The parent may simply be unwilling to consent. In other cases, the biological parent may be absent and he or she may be difficult or impossible to find. Whatever the reason, if consent cannot be secured, you will need to work with your family law attorney to demonstrate to a court that the adoption is in the child’s best interests.
Courts consider the fitness of the non-consenting parent. This requires a court hearing. Some circumstances courts declare the other parent unfit include when he or she is addicted to drugs or alcohol, is abusive, is neglectful, has a mental disturbance or is in jail or prison. This finding by the court establishes adoption is in the best interests of the child or children.
Two common approaches if a parent is absent or unwilling to consent include presumed father and abandonment.
In the so-called presumed father argument, the party seeking the adoption shows that the absent father does not meet the legal requirements of a presumed father. If successful, the parent will be able to accomplish the adoption without obtaining consent.
In the abandonment argument, the party seeking the adoption shows the absent parent has not been in contact with the child. Further, the absent parent has not performed his or her legal duties. In these cases, if the court terminates the absent parent’s rights, the adoption will proceed without obtaining consent.
These options require meeting notice requirements and a court finding. A qualified family law attorney considers all aproaches in determining what approach is best in a given case.
What Are the Benefits of Stepparent Adoption?
Stepparent adoptions bring many benefits to a family. Stepparent adoptions provide the child and the stepparent a sense of belonging. It provides security because of the permanency of the relationships. Stepparent adoption legally recognizes the new family while at the same time ending all legal connection to the previous family. Further, the adopted child gains inheritance rights with the new parent. Stepparent adoption allows all family members to share the same last name, if that is important to the parties. Finally, the new parent makes important decisions in the child’s life, including medical care, schooling and other important life issues.
What are Some of the Potential Issues in Stepparent Adoptions?
The adoptive stepparent understands he or she has full legal rights, be also full legal obligations. These obligations extend beyond the life of the marriage, even if that marriage ends in divorce or the death of a spouse. Potential future child support payments must be considered, no matter how unpleasant.
Stepparent adoption may result in strain on a family. Consider the other children in the marriage. Family counseling assists by minimizing the potential difficulties in the new family.
Stepparent adoption not only ends the legal relationship with the biological parent, it also ends the legal relationship with that parent’s family. Consider existing relationships with extended family, including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousin that are positive. Continuing those relationship may be beneficial to the child. While the legal relationship ends, the emotional relationship will not. Obviously, negative and harmful relationships should not be continued.
Many websites and blogs provide insight from stepparents that have adopted non-biological children. Reviewing information provided at these sites can be helpful while making the transition to a new family arrangement. Learn from the mistakes and positive experiences of others.
If You Are Considering Stepparent Adoption
If you are considering stepparent adoption, a qualified family law attorney can assist you in the process. At Fait & DiLima, we have over 50 years of collective family law experience. Contact us to discuss your situation today.