There are few acts of love clearer and more potent than adoption. Officially adopting your stepchild lets them know that you are committed to caring for them and want to be in their lives permanently.
There are also many practical reasons for stepparent adoption. It provides you with security in your connection and more freedom to act as a parent to your stepchild.
Legal Benefits of Stepchild Adoption
Legally adopting your stepchild cements you as their parent and affords you many invaluable benefits. These include the ability to take part in making medical decisions for your child, be involved in their education, and, in the event of your marriage to the biological parent ending, maintaining visitation and custody rights to your child.
Something as simple (and essential) as taking your stepchild to the doctor can be complicated if you are not the legal parent. Only a legal parent or guardian can consent to medical procedures or make other medical decisions for a minor. Legally adopting your stepchild gives you the right to weigh in on these decisions.
You might already be helping your stepchild study and do homework, but if you are not the legal parent, this may be the extent of your involvement in their school life. Only a legal parent can:
- Sign permission slips
- Access grades and other school records
- Be part of deciding which schools your child attends
- Discuss courses, disciplinary issues, etc. with your child’s teachers
- Receive notifications about your child’s assignments and activities
Visitation and Custody Rights
No matter how long you have been involved in your stepchild’s life, if you are not a legal parent, you will have no automatic right to visitation or custody if your marriage ends, whether by divorce or the death of your spouse.
If you have lived with the child for at least two years and can prove that continued contact with you would be in the child’s best interests, you can petition the court to grant you visitation. However, there is no guarantee that the court will rule in your favor. Legally adopting your stepchild is the best way to protect your right to continue raising your child.
The Steps of Stepchild Adoption
Currently, the U.S. federal law allows a child to have only two legally recognized parents. Some states allow more than two parents to be legally recognized as well, albeit on a case-by-case basis, but Minnesota is not included among them.
As such, by Minnesota law one biological parent must have their parental rights terminated for a stepparent to legally adopt the child. This may seem daunting, but there are only three major steps to follow in completing the process.
Step 1: Terminating the Parental Rights of a Biological Parent
Often, an uninvolved biological parent will terminate parental rights voluntarily. They will sign a consent form in front of two valid witnesses and a public officer or court administrator. Be aware that after they sign the form, they will have ten business days to reverse the decision.
If the biological parent will not give up their rights voluntarily, you must petition the court for involuntary termination. Also, for an adoption to go through, there is one more person whose consent you will need: your stepchild. A child over the age of fourteen must consent to be adopted.
Step 2: Petition for Adoption Paperwork
Next, your partner (the custodial biological parent) files a petition for you as the stepparent to adopt the child.
Generally, an adoptive parent must be a Minnesota resident for a minimum of one year and pass a post-placement assessment. You and the custodial parent can bypass these requirements if you file a motion with the affidavit for the court to waive them.
For assistance filing the paperwork or understanding the requirements, contact an attorney who is familiar with the adoption process.
Step 3: Court Appearance
Finally, you, the custodial parent, and your stepchild will appear in court together. All three of you will confirm your intent and that you understand what is taking place here in front of a judge. When this is done, the adoption will be finalized.
With this, you will be your stepchild’s legal parent, on equal standing with a biological parent.
Can Same-Sex Stepparents Adopt in Minnesota?
Yes, same-sex stepparents can legally adopt stepchildren in Minnesota.
We strongly advise that stepparent adoption be sought in these cases. Even if you and your partner married before your child was born and your name is on their birth certificate, this does not make you their legal parent. To safeguard your family under the law, stepparent adoption is ideal.
Looking to Adopt Your Stepchild?
Legal adoption is the biggest step you can take in becoming a permanent parent to your stepchild. If you believe it is right for you and your family, contact the offices of CJB Law today.