Stepparents often grow very close to the children of their spouses and in some cases, may play a very similar role to that of a parent. Yet, however close a stepparent becomes with their stepchild, the relationship between them has limited legal protections.
Family upheavals related to divorce or the death of a parent might force a separation of a stepparent and their stepchildren. Stepparent adoption is one way to legally secure a stepparent and stepchild relationship before such upheaval occurs. It is important, however, to understand that in Arizona, certain parties must approve of this shift in legal relationship before it can be formalized.
Any parents with legal rights to the child
To achieve a stepparent adoption, the child must be available for adoption. This can be achieved by consent of a legal parent or through a contested private severance action. To proceed by consent, both the parent to whom the stepparent is married and the parent who is allowing the stepparent to adopt must sign a consent form in front of a notary. Although a parent cannot initiate termination of their own rights, some parents will consent to the adoption of their child by the other parent’s new spouse because that decision terminates their child support obligation going forward.
A living legal parent who has not voluntarily rescinded their parental rights or had the state terminate those rights still has legal authority and rights as a parent. Even a parent who has not paid child support or been actively involved in the child’s life for years could potentially prevent a stepparent adoption.
If the non-custodial parent will not consent to terminating their parental rights, the custodial parent have grounds to ask the Juvenile Court to sever the other parent’s legal rights before they can apply for their spouse to adopt the child.
Once the child is available for adoption, judicial review is mandatory for the protection of the child involved. For many stepparent adoptions, the process can be largely clerical, although certain factors, including serious legal issues in the prospective adoptive parent’s history, might lead to additional challenges during the stepparent adoption process. The social or placement study required in other adoptions can be waived in some cases because the child already lives in the household. Before an adoption is granted, a judge will need to find that all of the necessary paperwork is in place and that the adoption would be in the best interest of the child.
Aspiring adoptive stepparents will want to talk about the decision with the child before taking any legal steps, as they may need to have some family discussions to adjust to the idea. Depending on the child’s age, the child may also need to give consent for the adoption to occur.
Understanding who must review and approve a stepparent adoption may benefit those who are beginning the planning process concerning this potentially very valuable adjustment to their family status.