What You Need to Know About Stepparent Adoption in NY and NJ
While stepparents often fulfill many, if not all, parental duties and love their stepchildren as if they were their own, they do not have a secure legal relationship with their stepchildren. What this means is that as a stepparent your right to have a future and ongoing relationship with your minor stepchild is entirely dependent on the child’s legal parent(s) consenting to that relationship. Even worse, if the child’s legal parent dies, there is no guarantee that the child would continue to live with you. More distant relatives of the child’s legal parents may have a greater claim to custody than you. Also, unless you make specific provisions in your will, your stepchild will not be entitled to inherit from you. In short, there are many important reasons for undertaking a stepparent adoption.
Once you adopt your stepchild you will have a legally protected parental relationship with your child. This will provide the child with permanency and security in the event the child’s other legal parent dies or becomes incapacitated. Other benefits for the child include his or her right to inherit from you, even if you die without a will, and the child’s right to receive your social security survivor benefits in the event of your death. Perhaps equally important, becoming the legal parent of your stepchild will cement the bond between the two of you, and the child will have the emotional security of knowing your relationship with him or her is permanent.
Same sex married couples have the same legal rights and opportunities to undertake a stepparent adoption as different sex married couples. For reasons which are discussed in the section on LGBT and second-parent adoptions, same-sex couples also use the adoption process to secure legally recognized parental rights for (typically) the non-biologically related parent. At Rumbold & Seidelman, we can help you to think through the potential pros and cons of undertaking a stepparent adoption in New York or New Jersey.
If you’re interested in adopting a stepchild in New York or New Jersey, you can contact us today to learn more about the options available to you. Read on for more information about how to adopt a stepchild in New York or New Jersey.
Laws Regarding Stepparent Adoption in New York and New Jersey
When the legal parent of a child marries or re-marries, that parent’s spouse may adopt his or her child through a stepparent adoption in New York or New Jersey.
One of two requirements must be met for the court to approve a step-parent adoption:
- the consent of the other biological or legal parent (the parent relinquishing their parental rights) must be provided, or
- the court must find that the consent of the other biological or legal parent is not required because that person does not have a legally recognized relationship with the child.
Generally, a stepparent adoption is straightforward, particularly if the other parent has given his or her consent or has abandoned the child. If you’re interested in learning how to adopt your stepchild, it’s important to know that the laws governing stepparent adoptions vary from state to state:
New York Stepparent Adoption Laws:
- Both parents (your spouse and the other biological or legal parent) must consent to the adoption, unless a court determines that their consent is not legally required. This can depend on many factors, such as whether the other parent is named on the child’s birth certificate and the extent to which she or he has taken physical, emotional and financial responsibility for the child.
- The child must consent to his or her own stepparent adoption If the child is more than 14 years old.
- The stepparent must be fingerprinted (to determine if they have any disqualifying convictions) and cleared through the child abuse registry (to determine if they have ever abused or neglected a child).
- The court will order an investigation (a home study report, usually conducted by a social worker) to determine whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child.
A stepparent who has resided with the adoptive child for more than a year before the adoption petition is filed does not have to be certified as a qualified adoptive parent (a procedure other adoptive parents must complete).
Importantly, where the “adoptive child” is over the age of 18, the consent of his or her legal parent is not legally required, because this would be an adult adoption.
New Jersey Stepparent Adoption Laws:
- A stepparent must be at least 18 years old and 10 years older than the child he or she wishes to adopt.
- Both biological/legal parents of the child must consent to the adoption, unless the New Jersey court finds that the other parent’s consent is not legally required. This will depend on many factors, such as whether the non-custodial parent is named on the child’s birth certificate and the extent to which she or he has taken physical, emotional and financial responsibility for the child.
- A child over 10 years old must consent to the stepparent adoption in New Jersey.
- The stepparent must be fingerprinted and also cleared through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The procedure is different where the non-biological parent is already named on the child’s birth certificate. (See discussion of Second Parent adoption process).
- The court has the discretion to dispense with an investigation by a home study agency.
Similarly, the consent of the child’s other legal parent is not required where the “child” to be adopted is an adult.
When you complete a stepparent adoption in either New York or New Jersey, the rights of the child’s other biological/legal parent will be terminated by the court. Again, this can occur either because the other legal parent voluntarily consented or because the court found that the other parent’s consent is not legally required. The “parent” whose rights are terminated by the court will lose the right to seek custody or visitation with the child — and will also be released from any parental responsibilities (including child support obligations). Your spouse will typically be required to consent to the adoption but his or her parental rights will continue.
What is required to adopt a spouse’s child in New York and New Jersey will vary depending on your particular circumstances. Feel free to contact us at 914-779-1050 if you would like to schedule a consultation about the stepparent adoption process.
How Can Rumbold & Seidelman Help Me with a Stepparent Adoption?
We are happy to help you complete the process of adopting a stepchild in New York or New Jersey. Our services include:
- Determining your ability to petition for a stepparent adoption
- Determining whether the child’s parent(s) will need to consent
- Preparing and submitting all required documentation to the court
- Obtaining the amended birth certificate identifying you and your spouse as the legal parents of your child
Because stepparent adoption requirements vary, we highly recommend that you refrain from taking any action until you obtain the advice of experienced legal counsel. This can help avoid legal complications and result in a smoother and quicker stepparent adoption.
If you’re considering adopting a stepchild, we can tell you the best way to achieve your legal goals. Feel free to give us a call at 914-779-1050, contact us online, or email us at email@example.com.