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Is it time to consider stepparent adoption?

You fell in love with and married someone who already had a child from previous marriage or relationship. Maybe the biological parent died unexpectedly or perhaps that parent has never claimed his or her rights, choosing instead to eschew having a relationship with the child in question. Over time, you've come to love your stepchild, and you want to make that bond something permanent and legally recognized.

Unless you legally adopt your stepchild, you probably won't have custody or visitation/time-sharing rights if your marriage ends in divorce. That could be heartbreaking for both you and the child in question. There are also issues of custody if your spouse were to die suddenly or become unfit to provide for the child due to physical or mental incapacitation. Adoption of a stepchild can offer protection and security for everyone in your family.

What do you need to do to adopt a stepchild?

You have to have the permission of your spouse to adopt your stepchild. If the non-custodial biological parent has waived parental rights, died or refused to acknowledge his or her parental rights, the courts could well approve your request to adopt the child in question. Sometimes, however, issues with the other parent could prevent the adoption from taking place. Even if your heart is in the right place, it's possible for the courts to deny your request.

There are other factors to consider. If your stepchild is over the age of twelve, for example, the child will also have to consent to the adoption. If your stepchild is a teenager and refused to agree to the adoption, the state will most likely refuse to approve it.

You will have to file certain forms with the court, including an Affidavit of Non-paternity to complete a stepparent adoption. The judge will review all your documentation and possibly engage with both you and the child to ensure the decision is made for the right reasons. If your request gets denied, you can take steps to apply again, possibly including having the non-custodial parent sign off on rights. If your request is approved and finalized, you will become the legal parent of your stepchild.

Stepparent adoptions offer a host of benefits

There is a broad range of reasons to adopt your stepchild. Perhaps there are health concerns for your spouse. Maybe the child needs a better sense of security in the developing relationship with you. Whatever the reason, adopting a stepchild can be a rewarding and powerful experience that you will treasure for the rest of your life. Embracing your stepchild as your own can help that child blossom into a healthy and happy adult, supported and confident about his or her position in your new family.