Portrait of a multi-ethnic blended family of five standing together outdoors in their front yard, posing for the camera. The African-American father is in his 40s. Their son and daughter from his prior marriage are standing on the ends. They are 13 year old twins, mixed race African-American and Caucasian. The mother is in her 30s and their youngest son from her prior marriage is 11 years old concept.

Adopting a Stepchild in California

Blended families have become increasingly common — and in many cases, stepparents are actively involved in the life of their stepchild. If your spouse has children from a previous marriage, you might have developed a strong emotional bond with them. Adoption can be the next logical step to legalize the parent-child relationship you both share. Stepparent adoption permanently transfers parental rights and responsibilities to the biological parent’s spouse and forever changes the family dynamic for the benefit of the child.

Benefits of Stepparent Adoption

A stepparent adoption is one in which a stepparent adopts the biological child of their spouse. There is no minimum time requirement for the parent to be married to the stepparent before an adoption can be completed. In addition to formalizing the relationship, there are many legal advantages that can come with a stepparent adopting a stepchild. While adoption can mean strengthening the family unit, there are also many practical benefits to stepparent adoption.

Stepparent adoption can provide the following benefits:

  • Offer the child a sense of security — Once a stepparent adoption is finalized, the parent-child relationship is legally protected. This can provide the child with the permanency, level of comfort, and security they need to thrive.
  • Grant parental rights to the stepparent — Stepparent adoption grants all the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent. Significantly, it gives the stepparent the authority to make important decisions for the child.
  • Health insurance eligibility — When a stepparent legally adopts their stepchild, the child can receive health insurance benefits from them.
  • Solidify parental rights — In the event of the biological parent’s incapacity or death, a stepparent would have no legal custody rights. Stepparent adoption can eliminate this uncertainty. An adoptive parent can also make medical decisions for the child in the event of an emergency.
  • Inheritance rights for the child — There is no difference between an adopted child and a biological child when it comes to inheritance rights.

Notably, stepparent adoption terminates the parental rights of the biological parent. This means the biological parent no longer has custody or visitation rights, and they can no longer make important decisions about the child’s education, religious upbringing, healthcare, or any other crucial aspects of the child’s life. When parental rights are terminated, the child no longer has the right to receive an inheritance from the biological parent — or any administrative benefits.

What is the Process for Stepchild Adoption?

Under California Family Code § 9000, written consent must be provided by the birth parent to adopt a stepchild. If the birth parent does not consent, the only option to pursue stepparent adoption is to obtain a court order terminating the parental rights of the biological parent. However, a biological parent’s consent may not be required in cases involving neglect, unfitness as a parent, or incarceration. To begin the stepparent adoption process, a petition must be filed in the family law court, requesting to be recognized as the stepchild’s legal parent.

Additionally, an investigation is required in California before a stepparent adoption will be approved — this process typically includes a criminal background check and fingerprinting. A stepparent will also be asked to produce certain certified documents, such as the stepchild’s birth certificate, a copy of the marriage license, the stepparent’s birth certificate, and a copy of the divorce judgment from the prior marriage. The purpose of the investigation is to ensure that the adoption will be in the child’s best interests. Unless specifically requested by the court, a home study is not necessary to adopt a stepchild.

Consent from the child may also be required, depending upon their age. Pursuant to California law, if the stepchild is 12 years of age or older, they must consent to the stepparent adoption.

The Stepparent Adoption Court Hearing

After the investigation has been completed and a report has been submitted to the court, a finalization hearing will be scheduled. The adopting stepparent, their spouse, and the child must attend and appear before a judge. This hearing is the last step in the adoption process, and the judge will sign the order to make the adoption official. The hearing is typically a brief and joyful occasion — family members and friends may also attend to take photos in the courtroom.

Once the adoption has been finalized, the state will issue a new birth certificate replacing the birth parent’s name with the stepparent’s name. If the child will be taking their stepparent’s last name, the new birth certificate will also reflect it.

Contact an Experienced Fresno Stepparent Adoption Attorney

If you’re considering legally adopting your stepchild, it’s essential to have the knowledge of an experienced stepparent adoption attorney. A skilled attorney can guide you through the nuances of the adoption process and ensure the adoption is carried out in accordance with California law. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been committed to helping clients in Fresno and the surrounding area with adoption matters for more than two decades. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.

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