Today, society embraces blended families. Heartwarming stories about adoption and the wonderful gift of having a child abound. Often, a new marriage following a divorce brings children into the equation. If you are a new step-parent, you may be interested in the possibility of adopting your step-child. Adoption may create a closer bond with you and your step-child, as well as a more stable family unit. This process can become complicated and complex, but also very rewarding for both you and the child. As family attorneys, we frequently deal with step-parents’ interest in adoption and are happy to assist you in this process.

What is the process?

In Massachusetts, a step-parent may adopt a step-child. To begin this process, a step-parent may file a petition to adopt; the child must be the step-parent’s spouse’s child. If the child you are adopting is over 14 years old, you must also obtain his or her consent to confirm that the child would like to be adopted. Additionally, your spouse must have legal and physical custody of the child. Legal custody means that a parent makes important decisions on behalf of their child regarding education, religion, and medical decisions. Physical custody determines where a child’s primary residence is.

For an adoption petition, a child must be in physical custody of the step-parent and spouse-parent for at least six months before the petition is filed. Also, it is important to know that the biological parent without custody must relinquish any parental rights in order for the adoption to take place. In these situations, we encourage step-parents to assess their family dynamic, the biological parent’s involvement in the child’s life, and what would be in the best interest of the child. Please be aware that the Commonwealth encourages both biological parents to be in a child’s life. If this is occurring, then step-parent adoption may not be possible, as both biological parents have an active role.

When might a step-parent need to take on the responsibility of a biological parent?

There are many instances in which a child can suffer severe physical or emotional damage if they remain in connection with their biological parent. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, and death are just some of the reasons why a step-parent may be put in a position to adopt a stepchild. It is important to be sensitive to the reasons why a biological parent is suddenly unfit to be part of their child’s life. While you may be better suited as a parent, custody and adoption hearings often are very contentious. As there are many parties, each wanting different outcomes, our family law attorneys will help you navigate the adoption process. Also, we will assist in ensuring that any court orders or pre-existing agreements are terminated by the time an adoption takes place.

How does this process differ from a standard adoption?

After approval of the petition, the adoption process differs from a standard adoption. A standard adoption involves the Commonwealth’s analysis of whether you and your spouse would be fit parents. However, as it is likely your spouse is a fit parent, and it is their child, home studies and state intervention are not required.

Other considerations:

Once you adopt your stepchild, you take on the legal and physical rights of becoming the child’s guardian. As a responsible parent, you take on the responsibility of financially and emotionally supporting your spouse’s child. With your spouse, you will have the ability to make decisions on a child’s education, medical care and religion. You will also have the opportunity to give your stepchild benefits, such as health insurance.

Additionally, the process changes the child’s birth certificate, replacing the absentee parent’s name with yours. Through this process, your stepchild will be able to inherit under your will. In this case, you are now the guardian of this child; therefore, they can inherit through intestacy under a will, even though there is no biological connection. Also, if you and your spouse divorce, you may be liable for child support and custody of your stepchild since you have taken financial responsibility of this child.

Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have questions or concerns about issues involving family law, alimony, adoption, custody, child support, and more, you should contact a competent attorney. Our divorce, family, and domestic relations attorneys may be able to work on your behalf to handle your case. Contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours to schedule a free consultation. We will respond to you as soon as possible.