Adopting your step children may sound like a lovely gesture. It can help cement a family unit and demonstrate that you care for these children as if they were your own biological offspring. However, it’s important to take stock of the entire situation and be realistic about your ability to commit to this relationship before you step toward adoption.
This post covers some important considerations for such a decision. That includes some basic requirements for adopting stepchildren as well as pros and cons to seriously weigh and discuss before your family makes such a commitment.
What Is Required to Adopt Stepchildren?
If you adopt a stepchild, it requires their non-custodial parent to give up parental rights—or that those rights be involuntarily terminated. For example, if a man is married to a woman and she has a daughter, the man adopting that daughter would mean that her non-custodial father gives up his parental rights.
This can happen in one of two ways. The non-custodial parent can voluntarily agree to give up their rights and support the adoption. This might be the case if everyone involved agrees that this is the best path forward for the children.
In other cases, the rights of the non-custodial parent are involuntarily terminated. Usually, you have to prove some form of abandonment, neglect, or abuse. For example, if the other parent has never been in the picture or hasn’t seen the child for several years, you may have a good case for involuntary termination of rights. A child custody lawyer can help you make such a case if necessary.
You also obviously want—and typically need—the support of the parent you are married to. Adopting your stepchildren without the approval of your wife or husband isn’t typically a good idea or even possible in most cases.
Depending on the age and maturity level of the children in question, you might also want to find out what they think of you adopting them. If a 16-year-old isn’t on board with adoption, for example, it may not be the best choice for your family at that time.
Finally, once everyone has agreed that adoption is the way to go, you’ll need to complete the legal requirements for adoption in your state. That includes filing all the necessary paperwork, going through a required home study, and completing other necessary tasks. While it does tend to be a bit easier to adopt stepchildren than it is to adopt outside of the family, the adoption process must still be followed.
Potential Benefits of Adopting Stepchildren
Before you begin the process of adopting stepchildren, carefully consider the pros and cons. Some potential advantages of adopting your stepchildren include:
- Demonstrating love. One of the most common reasons people seek to adopt stepchildren is to demonstrate parental love for them. They want to show that they don’t see their stepchildren as any different than their biological children. When you legally adopt a child, you become responsible for them in a way that you aren’t as a stepparent, and this level of commitment can be meaningful to you, the children, your spouse, and others in the family.
- Unifying the family. Adopting stepchildren can help unify a family unit. It removes some of the legal differences that exist in blended families and can even allow the family to present itself as a single unit more easily to the world. Adoption certainly isn’t necessary to unify a blended family, as many unique families are able to do this without legal adoption. However, every family is different, and you should consider what yours needs in this regard when making such a decision.
- Minimizing non-custodial parent influence. Because the parental rights of the non-custodial parent are terminated as a result of the adoption, they no longer share custody or have the same rights to visitation. This can be a way to reduce the influence of a biological parent who may be abusive or otherwise difficult.
- Maximizing your parental rights. Adopting your stepchildren increases your parental rights and provides some protection for the future. For example, if your spouse passes away, you may lose parental rights to your stepchildren. If you have adopted them, however, those rights remain and you can continue to care for and provide security to those children.
Potential Disadvantages of Adopting Stepchildren
When you adopt your stepchildren, you become legally responsible for them. That’s true whether or not you stay married. If you get divorced, you may be obligated to pay child support, maintain medical insurance, help cover medical costs, or carry life insurance on your adopted children. This is not always the case when you get divorced and there are stepchildren in the picture who have not been adopted.
Adoption is a serious step. Before taking it, ensure that you are fully committed to the children no matter what happens in the future with your marriage.
Work With a Family Law Attorney to Support Positive Results
Adoption can be a beautiful decision with many wonderful outcomes. However, it’s also a complex legal process, even when the children you want to adopt already live with you and are the children of your spouse. Working with a family law attorney experienced in adoption matters can help smooth the process and reduce some of the stress that comes with it. The Law Office of Deidra N. Haynes can help make your adoption dreams come true. Reach out today to find out more about adopting your stepchildren.