Blended families are common today, and a stepparent may want to formally adopt their stepchild, making their relationship legal and strengthening their bond. Although the stepparent adoption process can appear daunting or complex, a basic understanding of the requirements and steps involved will increase the chance of a smooth and efficient adoption.
Terminating parental rights must come first
Michigan, like many other states, requires the child’s other parent’s rights to be terminated by a court before a stepparent may adopt a child. The other parent may agree to the termination of rights, and then it is simply a matter of filing out the proper paperwork and having a court hearing.
At the court hearing, the child’s parent and stepparent must fill out consent forms. The other parent should attend if possible, and will have to answer questions from the judge, who will gauge if the parent’s consent to give up their rights is genuine, and they are not being forced into doing so. The judge may ask questions of any of the parties to determine if the adoption is in the child’s best interest.
If the other parent does not voluntarily give up their parental rights, an evidentiary hearing must be held. The other parent’s parental rights can be terminated if it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that for 2 or more years, the other parent substantially failed to financially support the child and substantially failed to contact or see the child, even though they had the ability to do both.
Stepparent adoption is permanent
A stepparent adoption cannot be undone. Once the adoption is official, the other parent is relieved from all obligations related to the child, including the duty to pay child support or cover any other child-related expenses. This does not change if the adopting parent and their spouse later divorce. The adopting parent will still be considered the child’s legal parent and retain all parental duties and responsibilities.
An adoption is an exciting and happy moment for the stepparent and child. Having guidance through the process can help minimize stress and distractions, so the experience can be enjoyed by everyone.