In today’s society where second marriages and blended families are prevalent, stepparent adoptions are becoming more and more common.
Adoption is the process where children who have been separated from their birth parents (permanently and legally) are placed with new parents. After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents are given the same rights and obligations as biological parents. Consequently, the rights and obligations of the biological parents are terminated.
In Virginia, only two types of places for adoption are permitted – those made by authorized agencies (including the Department of Social Services and private licensed child placing agencies) and those made by birth parents or legal guardians (including stepparents.)
While society placed a negative image on stepparents in the past, (think the evil stepmother in Cinderella), remarrying and starting a new family today is considered to be an exciting time in most families’ lives. In addition, modern stepparents often take on important roles in children’s lives and are extremely involved in the everyday activities of the family. There are even circumstances where the stepparent is even more involved than the biological parents. Because of situations like these, stepparent adoptions have become very prevalent.
Stepparent Adoption Process
The first step in a stepparent adoption is to figure out what rights the biological parent has. If the biological parent has been absent from the child’s life for an extended period of time, then the parent may be willing to consent to the adoption and the process is fairly simple. However, if it is unknown where the biological parent is or if the biological parent refuses to consent to the adoption, then more complicated measures must be taken before the court will grant a stepparent adoption.
If the biological parent is unknown or unwilling to consent to the adoption, the stepparent must file or obtain a court order that waives the usual consent requirement. However, the stepparent must present evidence to the court during an adoption hearing that shows that he or she made a good faith effort to obtain consent as well as evidence to show that the biological parent has essentially abandoned all parental responsibilities.
If such a hearing is necessary, the court will consider a number of factors to determine whether or not it should terminate the biological parent’s parental rights and allow the child to be adopted by the stepparent. These factors include:
(1) the efforts of the biological parent to obtain or maintain legal and physical custody of the child,
(2) whether the biological parent is currently ready and able to assume custody of the child,
(3) whether the biological parent’s efforts to assert parental rights were thwarted by other people,
(4) the biological parent’s ability to care for the child,
(5) the age of the child,
(6) the quality of any previous relationship between the biological parent and the child,
(7) the quality of any relationship between the biological parent and any other children,
(8) the duration and suitability of the child’s present custodial environment, and finally,
(9) the effect of a change of the custody on the child.
It is important to note that home studies are also usually an important aspect of a stepparent adoption proceeding. Often, a court will require an investigation or home study to be completed by the local Department of Social Services. The information that is obtained during the investigation is used at the adoption hearing to help the court determine the best interests of the child.
An adoption trial can be extremely emotionally charged and legally complicated, especially if it is a stepparent adoption. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that you have an experienced attorney on your side to make sure the adoption proceedings go off without a hitch. If you are a stepparent who would like to obtain parental rights of your stepchildren, call the Smith Strong attorneys at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298.
Read more about Virginia law surrounding stepparent adoptions in the Virginia Code sections § 63.2-1241