I am frequently asked by stepparents what is involved in adopting their spouse’s child. The process is often quite simple, and brings a sense of wholeness and belonging to the child and family.
How does this all work?
There are two instances where the adoption of a stepchild is considered uncontested and can move easily through the court system.
- The first is where the child’s other biological parent is deceased. In this situation, there is no one with rights to contest the adoption.
- The second is when the other biological parent signs a surrender form, relinquishing the child to be adopted by the stepparent. The surrender form requires only that the other biological parent sign the form in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public. After the form is signed, the other biological parent’s role in the adoption process ends – he or she does not need to appear in Court or get involved in the adoption in any other way.
What else is required?
The stepparent and the parent jointly file an Adoption Petition and Affidavit of Petitioners – yes, the biological parent must petition to adopt his/her own child. Both the stepparent and the parent must fill out a few other forms, including criminal background check forms and a Federal and Central Registers of Missing Children Search Request form. This form allows for records of missing children to be checked to confirm the child is not on the register. If the child is over the age of 12, he or she must also sign the Adoption Petition. These forms, along with the child’s birth certificate and the marriage license of the petitioners, is then filed with the Court, together with either the death certificate of the other biological parent or the surrender form. Assuming there are no problems on the criminal record check or the missing children search, a hearing is scheduled before a Judge of the Probate and Family Court.
Who attends the hearing and what happens?
An adoption hearing in Massachusetts is a happy occasion, where family and friends are invited to attend and take pictures. The only required attendees are the parent, stepparent and child. The hearing is always very informal. No one is put on the witness stand or asked hard-hitting questions. Adoption hearings are sometimes conducted in the Judge’s office instead of in the courtroom. The Judges enjoy the opportunity to be involved in adoptions and do their best to make the parents and child feel comfortable and at ease, sometimes even offering the child a token gift.
A stepparent adoption can solidify a bond that already exists between a stepparent and child. Don’t shy away from adopting a stepchild out of fear of a long and difficult court process. Of course, there are always those instances when things can be a little more complicated, so it is best to seek legal advice before proceeding.
Until next time,