When you marry someone who already has children, you step into a parent role, but you are not legally considered responsible for the children. If you and your partner decide that you would like to take the step of making you the legal parent and guardian of the children, you will first need to examine the legal requirements and process. Georgia law allows for adoption by stepparents in two specific situations:
- Both biological parents or guardians are still living
- Only one biological parent or guardian is still living
Regardless of the number of living biological parents or legal guardians, the written permission of those living parents is required before a stepparent adoption can occur. If the child to be adopted is age 14 or older, he or she must also consent to the adoption. The refusal of any one person whose consent is required will put a stop to the adoption entirely.
If the other living parent objects, you may still continue with the adoption through the difficult process of requesting that the courts terminate parental rights. This will require proving that the parent abandoned the child, in most cases, meaning that the parent has not paid child support or communicated with the child for at least one year. In many cases, this is not possible. Even if the parent has abandoned the child, you should consider that the termination of parental rights will end any child support the parent was paying.
When a biological parent is still living, he or she must surrender his or her parental rights before an adoption can take place. This may be one of the biggest hurdles you will face in attempting to adopt your stepchild. Even if not in regular contact, it may be difficult for a biological parent to accept the idea of giving up all rights to his or her child.
Once the adoption is complete, the adopting stepparent will have all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that go with legal parenthood. Although your goal is to create a permanent family, you should also be aware that, if the marriage ever ends, you may be required to pay child support as the legal parent.
Beginning the Process
The first step, after obtaining the necessary permissions from biological parents, is to file a petition for adoption. In the case of stepparent adoption, the petition will be filed only in the stepparent’s name, since the other parent is already listed as the legal parent. This paperwork, along with the required court appearances and other information, can be complicated and overwhelming. The guidance and assistance of an experienced family law attorney will prove invaluable, particularly as you deal with obtaining the necessary consent and pursuing termination of parental rights if needed.
Contact an Attorney
If you are interested in adopting your stepchild, contact the experienced attorneys at Lankford & Moore Law today. Adoption should be an exciting time, so let your attorney handle the paperwork while you enjoy your growing family.