The law is not particularly kind when it comes to the rights of stepparents in regards to their stepchildren. In some ways stepparents have no rights or privileges when it comes to their stepchildren. The laws that determine the rights and obligations of natural and biological parents with regard to child custody rights and child support generally do not apply to stepparents. This is an exceptional problem in blended families when a stepparent becomes a large part of the stepchild’s life, and this legal separation can drive a wedge between the two. Many stepparents seek to legally adopt their stepchild, thereby bringing their family closer together.
The Legal Effects of Adopting Your Stepchild
Adopting your stepchild comes with a lot of legal ramifications. The biggest and most important change is that by legally adopting your stepchild that you gain all of the legal rights and benefits as their natural or biological parent like your spouse. This means that in the eyes of the law for all intents and purposes you are their parent. You have the ability to make all the legal decisions and choices that a natural parent otherwise would in that situation. Even if you divorce your spouse, the natural parent to the child, you will still be responsible for child support.
The second most important change is that in North Carolina, adopting your stepchild terminates the right of the absent parent to the stepchild. Essentially, you will step into the shoes of the absent parent and that parent no longer has any rights or obligations to the child. It is important to note that if the absent parent is paying child support, by adopting the child it will terminate any responsibility of the absent parent, including paying child support. Adoption includes being responsible for all legal and financial obligations to the child.
Requirements of Adopting Your Stepchild in North Carolina
If you are interested in adopting your stepchild and you are married to the child’s natural parent, the process of adoption can begin very quickly. In North Carolina you are only required to be married for six months before you can adopt your stepchild. Once you file your petition for adoption there will be a home study and a criminal background check. This is to ensure that the adoption would be in the best interest of the child and that the child would be in a safe environment. If you have been married for at least two years, however, the home study requirement may potentially be waived by the court.
North Carolina requires that in order for a stepparent to adopt his or her stepchild he or she be married to the parent that has physical and legal custody of the child. The child must have lived primarily with you and your spouse for the last six months in order to qualify for stepparent adoption. If the child is over the age of 12 he or she will also have to consent to the adoption.
The Roadblock to Adoption
The largest hurdle to overcome in obtaining an adoption of a stepchild is always gaining the consent of the other natural or biological parent of the child. If the other natural parent does not consent to the adoption and subsequent termination of his or her rights, the only other option left available to adopt is to ask a court to forcefully terminate the parent’s rights. This can be a risky and rocky path though. Terminating a parent’s right when the other parent does not wish to lose their rights is a very hard and difficult process.
In order to terminate the other parent’s rights to the child you must file paperwork with the court for the adoption and give a reason under North Carolina law as to why the other parent’s rights should be terminated. The reason must be in the best interest of the child and in general the reason will tend to be very serious and extreme, such as accusations of abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child. Courts generally do not like to terminate the rights of a natural parent and will not do so without a very good reason.
If the other natural parent chooses to fight, it may be almost impossible to successfully terminate their rights as a parent. Parents have a constitutional right to raise their child as they see fit and courts generally do not like to interfere by terminating those rights forcefully. Generally courts will seek remedial measures over termination in matters of child custody and adoption and it is this focus on keeping a child’s relationship with their natural parent going on that sinks many a couple’s plan for adoption.
Need Guidance? Contact a North Carolina Family Law Attorney For Assistance
Family law standards are very case specific and are tailored to the individual needs of the child making family law a very complicated and sometimes not so uniform in the decisions that are handed down by the court. This is doubly true when it comes to the rights of stepparents in blended families. If you are attempting to adopt a stepchild and encounter resistance from the child’s other natural parent, your situation will only get harder. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that when trying to assert your rights to a stepchild, you consult with experienced family law attorneys in Charlotte to guide you through this difficult process.
If you and your spouse are seeking to adopt your stepchild to further unify your family, do not attempt the process alone. Consult with family law attorneys who can guide you through the process and avoid any potential problems in your adoption as well as advising you both on your legal rights and obligations along the way. The family law attorneys at the law firm of Remington & Dixon, PLLC can help put you on the right path. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.