Steps Involved With Adopting Your Spouse’s Children

Everything You Should Know About Adopting Your Spouse’s Children

Whether you want to make sure that your spouse’s child has an inheritance or simply want to make your role as the child’s parent official, there are plenty of reasons that you might be thinking about adopting a stepchild. Around 140,000 adoptions occur in the United States every year, the majority of which are stepparent adoptions. If you’re considering adopting your spouse’s children, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of the adoption process and what it will involve.

Parental Rights in New Jersey

New Jersey law is very clear about parental rights and how adoption fits within these rights. In New Jersey, a child is only able to have two legal parents. Even though family structures with more than two people in parental roles are becoming increasingly common, laws have yet to adapt to these changes. If you consider yourself a stepparent for your spouse’s child, you may be unable to start adoption proceedings if another individual aside from your spouse currently has parental rights. In certain situations, it’s possible for a third individual who is acting as a parent to gain certain visitation or custody rights. However, these rights are very limited and may not apply to your situation.

No matter how expansive the third person’s role is as a parental figure, they can only gain limited visitation and custody rights in the event that the parental rights of one or more parents are terminated or if one of the legal parents is deceased. The same is true when attempting to adopt your spouse’s children. You can only do so if parental rights have been terminated or there are no longer two legal parents.

Keep in mind that the termination of parental rights can occur on a voluntary or an involuntary basis. When this termination happens, the individual who has had their rights terminated won’t be able to reclaim these rights in the future. The only situation where this doesn’t apply is if the individual needs to continue paying child support. If you are allowed to adopt your spouse’s child, you will have full legal and financial responsibility for the child in question.

Rights of Surrogate Parents and Donors

When a couple is unable to bear a child or conceive, they may seek a surrogate or donor to support their desire to have a child. The parental rights of the surrogate or donor depend on several factors, the primary of which includes the type of procedure that’s being used and the state that the child is born in. Parental rights for assisted reproduction differ from state to state. If the child is born in New Jersey, sperm donors who are anonymous don’t have any parental rights.

When the situation involves artificial insemination with the full consent of the spouse, parental rights typically transfer directly to the spouse. On the other hand, a second-parent adoption will likely be necessary if the partner of the mother isn’t her spouse. A legal partner or spouse is someone who has marital, domestic partnership, or civil union status.

Unlike situations involving donors, surrogacy is much more complicated and doesn’t always have a straightforward answer. Even if the surrogate doesn’t have genetic ties to the child, she will still obtain parental status as the result of carrying the child. The intended parent who doesn’t have genetic ties to the child will need to seek a second-parent adoption in order to become a legal parent. For this to occur, the rights that the surrogate has as a parent will need to be terminated.

Because of the complexity of these situations, there’s always a possibility that the laws involving parentage with assisted reproduction will change significantly in the coming years. If you’re considering assisted reproduction, make sure that you remain up to date on New Jersey adoption laws.

How Parental Rights Can Be Terminated

As mentioned previously, parental rights can be terminated on a voluntary or an involuntary basis. If the two legal parents have separated or filed for divorce, one parent can voluntarily seek a termination of their parental rights to make way for a stepparent adopting a child. A form will need to be signed by the noncustodial parent in order for the termination to go into effect. As for involuntary termination, this can occur in the event that a parent abuses or abandons a child. In New Jersey, parent neglect or abuse is currently defined as:

  • Abusing a child sexually or allowing another individual to do so
  • Directly harming a child or risking the harm of a child because of a lack of proper care
  • Abandoning a child
  • Causing substantial emotional or physical harm to a child
  • Allowing another individual to physically harm a child
  • Putting a child at risk of significant physical harm
  • Implementing extreme physical punishment on a child

It’s important to understand that the termination of parental rights is always a difficult decision, which is why there must be ample evidence that these rights should be legally terminated.

Standard Adoption Procedures

Despite the intricacies involved with any adoption case, adopting your spouse’s child can be a relatively simple and straightforward process. In the event that a second parent doesn’t currently hold parental rights, it’s possible for a nonbiological parent or stepparent to file for adoption if the child in question was born somewhere in New Jersey. However, filing for adoption must occur in the first three months after the birth of the child if you want the process to be streamlined. The process is slightly more time-consuming if it occurs later on in the child’s life.

In every situation, the legal parent of the child will need to give their consent to the adoption. It’s also important to understand that the child typically doesn’t change households when adoption occurs. Keep in mind that court procedures must take place in order for any adoption to be finalized.

A home study might also be required for the adoption to proceed. This is a written record that goes into great detail about your life, which extends to your family history, health data, financial information, personal background, and any parenting plan that has been made. A social worker may visit your home as well to ensure that it’s a suitable environment for a child. The court has the ability to bypass a home study and may do so if facts surrounding the adoption are presented as evidence during the adoption hearing.

If you have any questions about adoption, you should seek assistance from a New Jersey divorce lawyer who has experience in handling adoption cases. At the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco, our divorce lawyers can help you determine if adoption is viable for you and what your rights will be in the event that adoption is possible. We can also fill out any paperwork and handle all of the legal minutiae that occurs during an adoption case of any kind.

Despite the hurdles that can occur during the adoption process, adopting your spouse’s children is the most common method of adoption in the U.S. Call our office today at (201) 343-0078 to talk to a qualified Hackensack, New Jersey, divorce lawyer if you’re thinking about starting adoption proceedings.

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