Step-parent adoptions are the most common type of adoption and arise in three circumstances:
- A divorced natural parent consents to the adoption of his or her child or children by the new spouse of the parent's former spouse.
- The child or children of a natural deceased parent are adopted by the new spouse of the surviving natural parent.
- A child is born to unmarried parents and one of the parents later marries another person who adopts the child or children.
Most adoptions involve minor children, but it is also possible to adopt an adult (generally someone over the age of 18). The procedure outlined below is generally oriented toward the adoption of minor children, but the basic procedure also applies to adult adoptions.
The step-parent adoption process is much easier if both of the child's biological parents consent to the adoption. However, a problem arises where one biological parent consents the adoption, but the other parent's consent cannot be obtained. Reasons for this include:
- One biological parent cannot be found or his whereabouts are unknown;
- One biological parent refuses to consent to the adoption for personal reasons or out of spite
If one of the biological parents refuses to consent to the step-parent adoption, the other parent can bring a lawsuit in order to terminate his or her biological rights. One of the main grounds for such a lawsuit is "abandonment."
Abandonment is the deliberate action by a parent to leave his or her child behind or the refusal to assume parental responsibilities from the outset of the child's life. The parent bringing the lawsuit has to show that the non-consenting biological parent has disregarded his parental duties toward the child and permanently intends to do so.
Proving abandonment is much easier if the non-consenting parent has vanished for a period of six months or greater. In situations where the non-consenting parent's whereabouts have been unknown for a year or more, courts are very likely to grant a step-parent the right to adopt a child even if consent has not been given by the absent parent.
Most states have time requirements for a showing of abandonment. The most common such requirement is proving that the abandonment existed for a year or more. However, some states' time requirements depend on the age of the child to be adopted.
Non-consenting parents may be able to raise claims in defense that:
- He or she maintained a satisfactory relationship with the child;
- Adequate support was provided for the child;
- Any surrender of custody of the child was temporary and in the best interests of the child;
- His or her place of work or residence prevented visitation;
- There was no intent to abandon the child.
Because of the complexity of the adoption process, it may be wise to consult with a family lawyer. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney will help you understand your rights and obligations. Additionally, you will have a greater chance of proving abandonment with an attorney's assistance.
This painful reality of your child's abandonment can often be drastically minimized by having your spouse adopt his or her stepchild. For many, adoption psychologically completes the parent-child relationship for both the natural parent, spouse and his or her stepchild and provides the child with a fundamentally improved sense of security and a belonging family unit.
Contact an adoption attorney at James Piedimonte, P.C. today.