Stepparent Adoption Lawyers in Irvine, Orange County
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There are many types of adoption cases allowed in California, including private adoptions, agency adoptions, and surrogacy arrangements. This page deals with a specific type of adoption where a stepparent files a petition in juvenile court seeking to adopt his or her spouse’s child from a previous relationship. These cases are referred to as stepparent adoption cases and we handle them all the time. These cases can be simple to extremely complex depending on the circumstances of the matter, primarily involving whether the other biological parent consents to the adoption.
Like divorce and other family law cases, stepparent adoption cases are either contested or uncontested. A “contested” matter is litigated and the judge makes the ultimate decision about whether to terminate parental rights (more on this below) and to grant the stepparent adoption. In an “uncontested” stepparent adoption case, all parties agree to the adoption and sign consent forms to that effect. The court still requires an investigation and then ultimately makes a determination.
Stepparent adoption cases usually follow a two-step track, which includes (1) terminating the parental rights of one parent (the parent not married to the petitioner stepparent) and (2) the adoption by the stepparent.
Is there a Consent Form for the Other Parent to Sign if they Agree to the Stepparent Adoption?
Yes, the form was created by the California Department of Social Services (DSS). Click here to upload the form: AD2A2B. This form needs to be notarized or acknowledged in the presence of a court clerk. (See Family Code 9003). If the biological parent that is not married to the petitioning stepparent signs this form in the proper way, the case will likely be much easier for the petitioning family.
Will the Court Grant a Stepparent Adoption in Every Case where all Parties Consent?
No. The procedure for a stepparent adoption requires a detailed investigation into whether an adoption is in the best interests of a child. If the investigation results in a recommendation to the court that the adoption would not be in the child’s best interests, the court will likely not grant the adoption. Likewise, even if the investigation results in a recommendation for the adoption, but the judge believes for some reason that the adoption is not in the child’s best interests, the court will not grant the adoption even with the consent of all parties involved.
Further, if the child is “of age” to provide input into the matter and objects to the stepparent adoption, the court will weigh all the evidence and may decline to approve the adoption even when all the adults consent. Usually when a child is 12 years old or older they will have a say in the proceeding and may decline to provide his or her consent.
In what other Situations Might the Court Decline to Allow a Stepparent Adoption when the Parents Consent?
If the investigation is completed and information concerning the proposed stepparent adopter reveals concerns, the court may decline to approve the stepparent adoption. For instance, the Court may not approve a stepparent adoption petition in these situations, even if everyone agrees:
- When the stepparent proposing the adoption has a criminal history that concerns the court. Usually, this involves recent criminal charges and convictions for felonies or other serious crimes, or crimes that tend to show the court that there could be a danger in the home (i.e. past criminal history of child abuse, child endangerment or neglect, assault and battery, domestic violence, weapons charges, and so forth).
- When the child has not made a significant connection with the stepparent. For example, if there is no bond between the child and stepparent, or if the stepparent is relatively new in the child’s life, the court may decline to grant the adoption. Likewise, when the stepparent and biological parent – spouse have only been married for a very short period of time, it will be a red flag for the court and caution will be given.
Is it Possible that the Court will Terminate the Parental Rights of One Parent but not Grant the Stepparent Adoption?
There is really no chance of that happening. While the Family Code provides the Family Court and Juvenile Court judges with the authority to terminate the parental rights of any parent for various reasons (outlined below), the public policy of the State of California is that a child is better off having two biological parents where possible, even when one of those parents is less than ideal. Therefore, the court will not terminate the parental rights of a biological parent unless the court has already determined that the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interests and will approve that petition.
What are the Grounds to Terminate Parental Rights of a Biological Parent?
As mentioned, stepparent adoption cases follow a two-part process. The first step is to terminate the parental rights of the “other” biological parent (the parent that is not married to the petitioner stepparent). The second step involves the court approving the adoption. To satisfy the first step, there are various grounds that the court may find to reach the conclusion that the parental rights of a parent must be terminated. Keep in mind that there is a constitutional right to parent children, and the court is always hesitant to terminate parental rights at the outset. There must be a compelling reason for the termination supported by evidence. The grounds to terminate parental rights include:
- Abandonment by the parent for a period of at least 6 months with someone other than the other parent
- Abandonment by the parent for a period of at least one year with the other biological parent
- Failure to financially support the child for a period of at least one year
- Failure to communicate with the child for a period of at least one year
- The parent was convicted of a felony and the facts of the crime are of the nature that evidences that the parent is unfit
- The parent has been declared as developmentally disabled or mentally ill by a court of competent jurisdiction, and the Director of State Hospitals or Director of Developmental Services, or the equivalent, certify that the parent will not be capable of supporting or controlling the child in a proper manner.
Are we likely to have a Trial in my Stepparent Adoption case?
Yes, unless all parties consent to the adoption. There is a constitutional right to have the opportunity for a fair hearing on the issues. The court will also appoint an attorney to represent the party whose rights might be terminated if that party cannot afford his or her own attorney.
Does a Biological Parent have the Right to Counsel in Stepparent Adoption Cases?
Under most circumstances, yes, a biological parent that does not have the resources to hire their own attorney will receive a court-appointed attorney to represent them in a case where their parental rights may be terminated.
What are the Steps Involved in a Stepparent Adoption Case?
Generally, here are the steps involved in a typical stepparent adoption case:
- Complete the Adoption Request form (ADOPT-200), the Adoption Agreement form (ADOPT-210) for the biological parent married to the stepparent petitioner, and the Consent form for the other parent described above if applicable, and the Adoption Order (ADOPT-215). Also complete the form VS44, which is the Court Report of Adoption.
- Make sure you have gathered your marriage certificate and the child’s birth certificate. If there is a prior judgment in family court between the biological parents, make sure to get a certified copy of that judgment.
- The forms need to be filed in the appropriate juvenile court (our office will handle this for you if you retain our firm).
- A court investigator will contact you. There will be a fee for the investigation.
- There will be a first hearing where the judge will want to know the status of the case and will assign a court-appointed attorney for the respondent parent, if applicable in the case.
- You have the right to conduct discovery in the case to further prepare for trial.
- Trial will eventually be set and both parties have the right to present evidence and have witness testimony. At the end of the trial, the judge will issue a ruling either terminating the parental rights or denying the request. If the request to terminate parental rights is denied that is the end of the case unless the petitioner appeals. If the request to terminate parental rights is granted, there will be an automatic waiting period to allow the respondent parent to file his or her appeal of the decision. Once the appeal process runs its course, the court will set another hearing for the adoption (which will have been pre-approved).
- At the adoption hearing, the child is required to attend and there is a nice ceremony with the judge. The parents can order a new birth certificate after the adoption hearing.
Does Notice need to be Given to a Person who is Possibly the Biological Father, even if their name is not on the Birth Certificate?
Yes. Part of the requirements under the statutes for stepparent adoption requires the biological parent married to the stepparent to provide an affidavit stating with reasonable specificity the facts and circumstances regarding what individuals she had sexual intercourse with around the time of conception. Any individual that may be the father has the right to be notified about the pendency of the case and will have an opportunity to be heard.
What does the Stepparent Need to Know?
A person wishing to adopt a child through a stepparent adoption needs to know that they are going to be become the legal parent of the child they adopt, which means that they are going to be financially responsible for the child until they reach the age of majority. This is true even in the event the stepparent divorces from the biological parent of the child.
How much does a Stepparent Adoption case cost in California and Orange County Specifically?
The cost of a stepparent adoption case varies widely depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular case. The following factors will weigh heavily on the ultimate cost of a particular stepparent adoption case:
- Whether one parent of the child is deceased. When one parent is deceased, there is no need to “terminate” the parental rights of that person. Usually, the majority of cost for a stepparent adoption results from the activities leading up to terminating parent rights of one of the parents. When one parent is deceased, there is no need to have that fight.
- When the biological parent whose rights are sought to be terminated consents to the child becoming the adopted child of the stepparent, the cost is significantly reduced. There will no longer be a necessity of having a trial to terminate parental rights. Be careful that the consent is properly executed for it to become valid and enforceable.
- When the biological parent whose rights are sought to be terminated has had no contact with the child for a very long period of time or has failed to pay support, the longer these facts have been present the more straightforward and less costly a case will be. For example, compare a father that has failed to contact his child for 1 year with a father that has failed to contact his child for 15 years. The case to terminate the parental rights of that parent becomes a lot more simple the longer the factors warranting termination have been in occurring.
Our Firm’s Experience with Stepparent Adoptions
We have handled many stepparent adoption cases, from relatively straightforward cases where one biological parent is “out of the picture” to extremely contested cases that involved a significant trial to terminate the parental rights of one parent. We have been very successful in our representation of parties seeking to terminate the parental rights of one biological parent and for the stepparent to adopt. We have also been successful in negotiating consents for one parent to agree to the stepparent adoption without the necessity of a trial.