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Stepparent Adoption

Article by Aleksandra Kocelko, Esq.

As a family law attorney, I often say that adoption day is one of the only times there is crying in the courtroom and that is a good thing. Helping parents adopt is rewarding and an important role to play. One of the most common forms of adoption is stepparent adoption. Typically, adoptions take place through the orphans’ court of your local county.

Typically, adoption is a two-step process. First, the parental rights are terminated and then the adoption takes place. Termination of rights can be either voluntary (by agreement of the biological parent) or involuntary (based on specific reasons). If a biological parent is willing to have their rights terminated, they typically sign a consent. This voluntary termination is only done as part of an adoption proceeding, so one parent cannot unilaterally decide to give up their rights if there is not someone stepping in to fill that role. There are a number of grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights, including refusal to perform parental duties, incapacity, abuse, neglect, and certain criminal offenses. In a case of involuntary termination, the court would hold a hearing to determine if the grounds are met and the rights should be terminated.

Stepparent adoption is unique in that it does not affect the parental rights of the spouse. Normally in an adoption matter, both parents’ parental rights are terminated to allow the adoption to proceed, but in a stepparent adoption, only one biological parent’s rights are terminated. For example, if a stepmother was adopting a child, only the biological mother’s rights would be terminated, the biological father’s rights would remain intact.

Following the termination of rights, there is usually a second hearing on the adoption end of the matter. This is typically a formality, as once the rights have been terminated, the court is almost certain to grant the adoption. Once the adoption is final, a new birth certificate is issued listing the new parent. A child’s last name can also be changed as part of an adoption proceeding.

It is important to understand the rights and responsibilities associated with adoption. Once parental rights are terminated, the child has no legal tie to the biological parent. They are no longer entitled to receive financial support from that parent nor would they be able to inherit from that parent. An adoptive parent must agree that they will provide love, care, and financial support to the child they wish to adopt. They must also have to agree that they will not treat an adoptive child any differently than a biological child. In Pennsylvania, if the adoptive child is over the age of 12, they must consent to the adoption. Of course, the remaining biological parent (spouse of the stepparent) must also consent to the adoption.

If you have any questions about an adoption matter, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Burns White for a free consultation.