Adopting a Stepchild in Virginia
If you married someone with children, you may have considered formally adopting your stepchildren. You probably don’t consider them to be your “stepchildren” at all; as far as you are concerned, they are already yours. Adoption is a wonderful way to show your stepchildren how much they mean to you and solidify a strong family bond. However, blended families have many factors to consider before going through with the adoption process. Adoption is a lifelong commitment that should not be rushed into without conscious deliberation.
The Symbolic and Legal Significance of Adoption
When you married your spouse, chances are you vowed to love and care for that person forever. While you probably understood from the start that those promises also extend to your spouse’s children, making adoption “official” can have an enormously positive impact on the child’s sense of belonging. This gesture of love and security is particularly beneficial to children that do not have a meaningful relationship with both their biological parents.
Stepparents play an important role in the lives of children growing up in blended families, but they are not entitled to many of the legal rights and responsibilities of “real” parents. A stepparent may consider adoption to secure legal decision making authority regarding medical, education, or other major parenting decisions. Adoption will also entitle you to some custody or parenting time privileges if you should divorce or separate from your spouse.
Many stepparents adopt their spouse’s children to give them access to financial benefits, such as health insurance or an inheritance. There could be some negative financial consequences as well. If a child’s biological parent is paying child support, these payments will end once the parent gives up his/her rights to the child. Adopting a child also means you become financially responsible for them, even if your marriage to the child’s parent ends.
When Adoption May Not Be the Right Decision
Sometimes, adopting a stepchild may not the best decision for your family. The biological parent could be unwilling to forfeit his/her parental rights and refuse to consent to the adoption. Alternatively, if your marriage or relationship with your stepchildren is struggling, moving forward with adoption at this phase may be too much pressure. Consider attending counseling sessions as a family to work through any unresolved issues before beginning the adoption process.
The Adoption Process in Virginia
Adopting a stepchild may not be as difficult as other forms of adoption, but it can still be a complicated and sometimes confusing process. Stepchild adoptions are simplest when the biological parent is unknown, deceased, or someone whose rights have already been terminated. Otherwise, you will need consent from the child’s biological parent, which entails relinquishing all his/her parental rights. If consent is not given, it may be possible to have the birth parent’s rights terminated, if you can demonstrate the person (a) is not the father (if male); (b) abandoned the child; or (c) is an unfit parent.
A petition joined by both the stepparent and the custodial parent must be filed in family court and signed by the noncustodial parent if necessary. In contested cases, a guardian ad litem will be appointed for the child. Before issuing a final order, the judge may set a hearing to determine all requirements have been met and the adoption is in the child’s best interests.
Let Us Help You with Your Case
Whether your case is contested or uncontested, it is recommended you consult with an adoption attorney before proceeding with a stepparent adoption. The experienced family law attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC in Leesburg can guide you through the entire adoption process.