If your spouse already had a child when you married, you may have had to work hard to gain the respect and acceptance you desired from the child. Now that you are solidly part of the child's life, you may be thinking of taking it to the next level by adopting your spouse's child as your own.
Adopting your stepchild may seem like the most natural thing to do. After all, you are already family, and your desire to make your bond official and legal is understandable. However, achieving this goal is not always easy. As important as it may for you and your spouse to take this step, there may be one challenging hurdle to cross.
Gaining consent can be a tough barrier
Your stepchild has another parent somewhere. In some situations, the noncustodial parent is deeply involved in the child's life or, on the other side of the spectrum, may not have had contact with the child for many years. In any case, you must make a good faith effort to seek consent from the biological parent before you can adopt his or her child. Consent includes willingness to surrender any parental rights over the child.
Adopting your stepchild is important for you because it gives you the right to make important legal decisions for the child, including medical care, education and religious training. In order for you to have these rights, the noncustodial parent must relinquish them. You can expect your stepchild's parent to contest your efforts to adopt the child. However, even if he or she refuses to grant consent, the court may terminate parental rights under certain extraordinary conditions, such as:
- Abandonment, which in Kansas means the other parent has not had meaningful contact with the child in two years or more
- Lack of financial support
- Unfitness due to criminal history, substance abuse or mental instability
- Inability to be located
If you are successful in obtaining the consent or termination of the rights of the noncustodial parent, the rest of the process is rather streamlined, provided you have legal support and advocacy. After filing the appropriate papers and undergoing a background check or home study, you will attend a hearing with a family law judge who will interview you about yourself and your family. If the hearing is successful and the court finds no reason to deny you, the judge will grant your petition.