If you need a smile today, please watch this video that went viral a few years ago of a stepfather opening a present on Father's Day to find paperwork from his stepdaughter asking him to adopt her. Cementing the loving relationship between a stepparent and their stepchild by signing adoption papers can be one of the most special days in a family's lifetime. Many people have seen happy videos like the above and want to create their own sentimental moment by formalizing their family's bond through adoption, but not every family is eligible for stepparent adoption.
Please note that if you have any questions about step-parent adoption, you can always contact us for a free consultation.
To adopt their stepchild, a stepparent must obtain the consent of:
the adoptive child, if over the age of 12;
the adopting parent's spouse, unless their spouse is included in the petition to adopt;
the parents of a child under the age of 18;
the guardian of an incapacitated adoptee;
and/or the people who have custody of the adoptive child, if they are not their biological parents.
If the other biological parent consents to the stepparent adoption, they can simply sign some paperwork, called a Consent to Adoption, which relinquishes their parental rights. They also have to attend a hearing to confirm their consent, which is scheduled after the court receives the Consent to Adoption. There is a 30-day waiting period after the biological parent signs the Consent to Adoption, set aside in case that parent changes their mind and wishes to revoke their consent. There is also a 60-day period during which they can file a countersuit alleging fraud or duress; basically, they can claim that they were forced into signing the paperwork by being tricked or strong-armed into doing it. Even then, they only have 60 days, and they have to prove fraud or duress; if they change their mind on the 31st day after the paperwork was signed, but cannot prove with "clear and convincing evidence" they were tricked into signing the paperwork, it is too late. After that 60 days has passed, their parental rights are terminated forever. It is not possible to restore parental rights if they were previously signed away.
Please note that when a biological parent relinquishes their parental rights, they are no longer obligated under Pennsylvania law to provide child support. Sometimes, we have clients who would like their new partner to adopt their child from a previous relationship, but also want to receive child support from the child's other biological parent. This is not an option because the adoptive parent also assumes all legal rights and responsibilities for the child, including paying for their living expenses.
If the other biological parent does not consent, it is still possible for the stepparent to adopt their stepchild. They will need to petition the court to involuntarily terminate the rights of the biological parent. The court may involuntarily terminate the parent's rights if any of the below conditions are met:
Within 6 months before the termination petition, the parent states their intention to terminate their rights, or has not performed parental duties;
That parent repeatedly neglects or abuses the adoptive child;
The parent is the presumptive but not natural parent of the child, meaning they have fulfilled a caretaking role but are not the biological parent;
The child is with an agency who cannot locate their parents;
The child has been removed from the parent's care for a period of 6 months and the parent cannot or will not change their circumstances to allow the child to be in their care. This means a loving parent of a child who is incarcerated for 6 months or more can have their parental rights terminated, if the court determines it would best suit the child's needs. Sadly, it is sometimes the case that incarcerated parents have had their rights terminated while imprisoned and, upon their release and rehabilitation, cannot reclaim those rights.
If the baby is a newborn, the parent knows about their birth, but within 4 months of the petition to terminate their rights, does not make an effort to be in the child's life or financially support the child.
The parent is the father of a child begotten due to rape or incest.
One parent has been convicted of or attempted criminal homicide, aggravated assault, or an equivalent crime against the other parent.
However, the court always first and foremost cares about the well-being of the child. If the court determines that it would harm the child's well-being to have their biological parent's rights terminated, they will not do so. So all of the above may be moot depending on the relationship between the child and the parent.
Adoptions are complicated, especially when they involve termination of parental rights. Our experienced family law attorney is ready to answer any and all of your questions about adoption and termination of parental rights. Please call us today at 412-206-9474 for a free consultation; we would love nothing more than to help you.