Blended families, a family consisting of a couple and their children from their current and all previous relationships, are a regular part of American life. That is why the following statistics should not be surprising:
• 48% of all first marriage will eventually end in divorce;
• 79% of women and 89% of men will marry again within 5 years;
• 43% of marriages today in America involve a 2nd or 3rd (re)marriage;
• 68% of re-marriages involve children from prior marriages;
• 2,100 new blended families are formed every day in America;
• Over 65% of Americans are now a step-parent, a step-child, a step-sibling, a step-grandparent or touched directly by a step-family scenario
In many cases, the children will grow very close to a step-parent and in cases where one of the biological parent’s is absent from that child’s life, the step-parent may consider adopting their step-child.
In a step-parent adoption, one biological parent retains full parental rights and the other biological parent’s rights are terminated. The parental rights are then passed to the adopting step-parent; meaning the biological parent no longer has any rights or responsibilities owed to the child and the step-parent has all the rights and responsibilities originally held by the biological parent.
It is important to give due consideration to a decision to adopt a step-child, because step-parent adoption is a permanent transfer of parental rights and responsibilities. Once a step-parent adoption is finalized, it cannot be revoked or nullified, except in very rare situations. More importantly, the adoption is not terminated if the step-parent and biological parent divorce.
A step-parent must meet certain criteria in order to proceed with a step-parent adoption, specifically:
1. The biological parent and the step-parent must be legally married or in a registered domestic partnership;
2. The step-parent must be at least 18 years old and at least 10 years older than the step-child they are seeking to adopt – though in certain circumstances the 10 year rule may be waived;
3. The step-parent’s spouse must consent to the adoption;
4. The other biological parent (i.e. the biological parent whose parental right will be terminated by the adoption), must consent to the adoption – this requirement can be overcome, as I will discuss below, in certain circumstances; and 5. If the step-child is 12 years old or older, the step-child must consent to the adoption.
Family Code Section 8604(b) describes how you can overcome the other parent’s lack of consent to the adoption of the child by a step-parent. Specifically, “If one birth parent has been awarded custody by judicial order, or has custody by agreement of both parents, and the other birth parent for a period of one year willfully fails to communicate with, and to pay for, the care, support, and education of the child when able to do so, then the birth parent having sole custody may consent to the adoption, but only after the birth parent not having custody has been served with a copy of a citation in the manner provided by law for the service of a summons in a civil action that requires the birth parent not having custody to appear at the time and place set for the appearance in court…”
Family Code Section 8604(c), states:
“Failure of a birth parent to pay for the care, support, and education of the child for the period of one year or failure of a birth parent to communicate with the child for the period of one year is prima facie evidence that the failure was willful and without lawful excuse. If the birth parent or parents have made only token efforts to support or communicate with the child, the court may disregard those token efforts.”
If you are considering a step-parent adoption, or if you were served with papers notifying you that your child’s step-parent has filed an Adoption Request, it is important that you discuss your rights with an experienced family law attorney.