When you marry someone who already has children, your role as a stepparent is an important one. Children who have lost a parent through death or divorce are often eager to develop a bond with a supportive adult. Eventually, they cease to feel like your stepchildren and simply become your kids.
However, in the eyes of the state of Washington, you don’t have any parental rights if you and your spouse divorce – or if they pass away unexpectedly. A stepparent adoption can correct such issues. You can become an officially recognized legal parent of your stepchildren.
What does this process usually involve?
Conversations with your spouse and possibly their ex
You cannot pursue a stepparent adoption without the explicit support of your spouse. They may have a good reason that adoption isn’t the best choice for the family right now, such as continued child support benefits. On the other hand, they may fully support your desire to adopt your stepchildren.
In this scenario, if the other parent is still alive, you will need to seek their permission. In fact, they will have to willingly terminate their parental rights. Someone who hasn’t made use of their visitation rights and who doesn’t want to pay child support might agree to rescind their parental rights. In cases of abandonment, you may also have grounds to ask the court to terminate their parental rights so that you can adopt your stepchildren.
You’ll also want to talk to your stepchildren about this big decision, as it involves their connection both to you and to their other parent. Waiting until you have all the other details squared away is often a good idea, because it eliminates the risk of a disappointment to the child’s expectations.
If all necessary parties are comfortable with the adoption, then you can file the adoption paperwork in family court.
A family court hearing
Often, adoption hearings are mere formalities that involve the finalization of a process initiated long ago. However, in scenarios involving the termination of one parent’s rights, you may spend more time in court than a stepparent adopting a child whose biological parent is already deceased.
Provided that a family law judge agrees that your adoption would be in the best interests of the children, you can become their legal parent, with all the responsibilities and rights that come along with that role. Discussing stepparent adoption with your spouse and an attorney is a good first step to take if you want to become a parent to the children you love as your own.