Stepparents can be a very important part of a child’s life; similarly, a stepchild can be a very important part of the stepparent’s life. A stepparent can, in some circumstances, be even more supportive and closer to a child than a biological parent. In certain situations, the biological parent may have given up rights and responsibilities as a parent; in others, the court may find that the parent has not exercised his or her rights and will terminate them under the law. Thus, a stepparent adoption may very well be an essential step in the relationship between the stepchild and stepparent.
Stepparent adoption is the most common form of adoption. The result of a stepparent adoption is to bestow financial and legal responsibility for the stepchild upon the stepparent and to take those responsibilities away from the biological parent.
In Georgia, a stepparent may apply or petition to adopt a stepchild only after the rights of the biological parent are terminated and only with agreement of the custodial parent. Therefore, there must be a complete termination of parental rights from the other, non-custodial parent. Note that if the other parent is no longer living, only consent of the custodial parent is necessary. This will include any child support payments ordered by the court, which is often the main issue in these types of cases. There are two ways in which these rights can be terminated. First, the biological parent can voluntarily give up all parental rights. If the relinquishment is not voluntary, the court will have to be the one to determine parental rights.
If the court is the one to determine whose rights prevail, an experienced family law attorney can be the key to success. In those cases, the court will only terminate parental rights under extreme circumstances showing that the parent has abandoned the child. That requires that the court find that the biological parent, without any real justifiable cause, did not contact or communicate with the child, or at least did not attempt to do so. The communication, or attempted communication, if it existed, must have been meaningful, supportive and parental in order to be considered significant. The court could also find that the parent failed to provide for the care and support required by law or judicial decree.
Once the rights of the biological parent have been terminated, either voluntarily or by the court, the stepparent must then step up to petition the court to adopt the child. At this step, it is especially crucial that the petitioner have a family law attorney to assist them in this step. This step could include such processes as a home visit, court appearances, and a variety of paperwork. The judge will ultimately make the decision as to whether or not the adoption goes through.
If you or someone you know is considering adopting a stepchild, contact our office today to find out more. Our attorneys are experienced in family law issues, especially fathers’ rights, and we may be able to help you today.