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How do I adopt my stepchildren?

Starting a family can mean many things. For some, it means marrying the love of your life and building a family with their children. Those children quickly become your own and you may find yourself wanting to take that next step and make what is true in your heart true in the law.

Why should I adopt my stepchild?

Adoption can provide the stepparent with legal rights not otherwise available. This can range from the ability to make decisions about the child’s education to urgent medical decisions for the child in the event of an emergency.

It is important to note that the state of Tennessee does not recognize three parents. Instead, to become a legal parent through adoption the other biological parent must give up their legal rights as a parent to that child.

Why would the other parent give up their legal parental rights?

One motivating factor: money. If the other biological parent chooses to give up their legal parental rights the state will no longer hold them accountable for financially supporting the upbringing of their child.

This can mean they can get out of paying child support.

What is the legal process to adopt a stepchild?

One of two things must happen before adoption can occur. The other biological parent must either voluntarily give up their parental rights or the court must terminate these rights. There are cases where biological parents recognize that the stepparent can fill the child’s needs in ways they cannot and consent to the adoption.

There are others where the biological parent is either absent or refuses to agree to the adoption. In these instances, the court must terminate parental rights. This generally begins with the court deeming the biological parent as unfit. Examples of scenarios that can help support this argument in these cases can include:

  • Absent biological parent. The court may support the termination of parental rights if the biological parent is not present in the child’s life and does not provide financial support.
  • Abuse. A history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse against the child can also lead to the termination of parental rights.
  • Drug use. Drug or alcohol abuse can also help build an argument that the biological parent is unfit.

Ultimately, the courts look to the best interest of the child when making these decisions.

When it comes to approving your request to adopt the child, the courts will move forward in much the same way they do with other adoptions. This means that you will need to fill out applications and submit to home study which can include an interview with a social worker. Next, you will attend a court hearing where a judge will review the request. If the child is over the age of 14, the child also gets a say in the matter and can tell the court whether they consent to the adoption.

What else should I know about this process?

It comes with a lot of paperwork. You can help to better ensure the process goes smoothly by hiring legal counsel experienced in this niche area of family law. An attorney can advocate for your interests and help from the initial paperwork through finalization of the adoption.

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