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There’s nothing better than having a cohesive, tight-knit family. And while your stepchild is certainly already your child, there’s something nice about making it “legal.” But if you want to legally adopt your stepchild, there are some things you’ll need to know about the process.

What is Stepparent Adoption?

At first glance, the term can seem a little strange. But stepparent adoption – also known as second-parent adoption – is a fairly common process.

“A step-parent adoption is a situation in which a step-parent adopts the child of his current spouse,” one family law expert explains.” For example, if a woman who has a child remarries, her new husband might choose to adopt the child in a step-parent adoption. Step-parent adoptions are generally a straightforward process, provided there is parental consent for the adoption.”

While no two situations are the same, having a basic understanding of how the process unfolds will allow any family to make a more informed decision.

5 Things to Consider When Adopting a Stepchild

While typically cut and dry, there are considerations that must be carefully evaluated and weighed – some practical and others more subjective. Take a look:

Research Your State’s Laws

Every state has its own adoption laws. And though some states have fairly similar processes, there are always nuances. It’s important that you understand the rules in your own state, otherwise you could experience issues or delays. 

Take Florida as an example. To adopt a stepchild in Florida, parents must follow the adoption law as governed by Chapter 63 of the Florida statutes. Among other steps, the court requires the parent to file a petition for adoption. The petitioner is the stepparent and the document must include information like birth date, place of birth, legal name (if being changed), statements, and reasons why the stepparent wants to adopt the child. This starts the process and, as long as there’s no contesting from the biological parent, the court typically follows through with the request.

If you’re located outside of Florida, you may or may not follow this same process. Thus it’s wise to consult with experts in your area.

Ensure Parental Consent

The biggest key in this entire process is consent from the child’s biological parents (typically both of them). In consenting to an adoption, the noncustodial parent must relinquish all parental rights and responsibilities (this includes any child support, if applicable). If there are any objections, the case becomes exponentially more challenging. State laws may even prevent the adoption altogether. 

Consider Whether It’s the Right Decision

Take time to consider whether adoption is in fact the right move. You’ll be legally accepting responsibility for the child. Is this something you want/can afford? If your spouse passes away, are you prepared to be the sole guardian for your child? These may seem like callous questions, but they’re practical. Consider this situation from every angle!

Have the Right Expectations

A piece of paper might make a difference in some ways, but it’s not going to change underlying behavioral issues. 

“You may hope that adoption will give your stepchild a sense of security, but attachment or behavior issues are unlikely to change because of a few thousand dollars and a court date,” life coach Chel Guild writes. “The dynamic in the home won’t change without counseling and hard work, and even that is no guarantee.”

This isn’t meant to dissuade you from adoption, but it’s definitely something to understand and prepare for. You can work through these issues, so long as you have the right expectations going into the situation. 

Hire the Right Attorney

Though the process of adopting a stepchild might seem fairly straightforward – especially when there’s consent on all sides – it’s wise to hire an attorney. It streamlines the process and provides maximum legal protection in a situation where something goes awry. 

Adding it All Up

While all adoptions come with their own unique set of circumstances and procedural challenges, stepparent adoptions can be relatively simple and streamlined – if everyone is in agreement. It’s when there are disagreements or a lack of organization that things become more difficult.

If this is a path that you’re considering, take the time to iron out the details before proceeding. Open lines of communication will serve you well in this pursuit.

Useful resources:
– This government factsheet covers the legal aspects of stepchild adoption
– CP Family Network provides information and support for families of children with special needs
– American Adoptions advises on why it makes sense to hire an adoption attorney
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