Marriage in New Jersey does not always mean that you are gaining just a spouse — you could be gaining your spouse’s kids as well! For many reasons, your stepchild or stepchildren’s other biological parent may not be a part of their lives, and as a result, you have, for all intents and purposes, stepped into the shoes of being their full-blown parent, sharing all the responsibilities with your spouse. As time goes on, you may think about formally adopting your step-kids. How can you make this happen?
Here are four key steps to guide you through the stepchild adoption process.
1. Understanding the Basis for Adoption. Frequently, parents wish to adopt their spouse’s child is for legal reasons. For example, if your spouse was to die suddenly, as a stepparent, you would have very few rights and the courts would look to other biological family members to make decisions for the child. By adopting your stepchild, you would avoid this situation, because once the adoption is finalized, you are legally the child’s parent, regardless of biology.
2. The New Jersey Stepchild Adoption Process. The process of adoption in New Jersey is a formal one and one in which the state certainly becomes involved. First and foremost, the best interests of your stepchild are taken into account by the State of New Jersey, through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency and by the family court, which hears the adoption proceedings and signs the final adoption order. Typically, a home inspection is not required for stepparent adoptions, because the children are usually already residing with the stepparent for a good period of time.
3. The Child’s Other Biological Parent. In order for you to formally adopt your stepchild, the child’s other biological parent must relinquish any and all parental rights and responsibilities they may have, including the responsibility to provide child support. Once you adopt, you become wholly responsible for the care and upbringing of the child, including full financial responsibility. The biological parent can either agree to relinquish their rights, or their rights may be terminated by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency for a myriad of reasons including abuse or neglect of the child in the past.
4. After Adoption. Once the adoption is formalized and finalized, your child can be given your last name if you and your spouse would like. And, your newly adopted child will be legally afforded all the protections as a biological child would, including the legal right to inherit your estate. Without question, you taking on the full responsibility for this child is a gigantic undertaking and will have a profound emotional impact on your child. Be sure that you are fully and completely committed to caring for this child until they are no longer in need of your care.
If you and your spouse have questions regarding adoption or any other family law question, we welcome you to speak with our experienced family law attorney who has handled stepparent adoptions in New Jersey. Please contact us today to schedule your attorney consultation.