March 3, 2015
There are many “blended” families these days—families that bring together adults with their kids from different relationships. Many stepparents in such families feel satisfied with their role as a parental figure and put the legal adoption on the back burner. Just like with marriage, it’s only a piece of paper, right? Unfortunately, just like with marriage, it’s far more complicated than that. In some situations, adopting your step child can be a necessary thing to do and a risky one to put off.
It’s great that you don’t feel the need to adopt simply to gain authority in your stepchild’s eyes or to prove your relationship to your extended family. However, there are a few important legal implications of stepchild adoption you should consider. Below are a few of them, coming from your local Owings Mills child custody lawyers.
Legal Parental Rights
As a step-parent, you don’t have legal power over any medical or legal decisions that concern your stepchild. For example, certain schools might not release child’s records to anyone other than a biological parent or a legal guardian. This can be a big inconvenience when you need access to their grades or are tasked with transferring the child to a new school. Also, some medical facilities don’t recognize stepparent’s authority when it comes to admitting a child or making medical decisions on their behalf. By adopting your stepchild, you gain all the rights a biological parent has, including but not limited to:
- parental consent rights
- custody rights
- inheritance rights
With parental rights come parental responsibilities. You are probably already providing for your stepchildren together with your spouse. A legal adoption, however, will make you financially responsible for your stepchild’s well-being and future. If you are to divorce the child’s natural parent, you might be required to pay child support based on your child’s age and needs. Legally adopting your stepchild will also make them your heir in an event that you don’t leave a will.
Your Last Name
If you are a stepfather, you can give your stepchildren your last name once they are adopted. This might not be a big deal for you, but it might help your child avoid questions and explanations why his or her last name is different from that of her father and her siblings. This will also help them feel more like a part of the family and equal with your biological children. Certainly, one’s legal name can be changed without adoption, but it typically requires consent of both biological parents, which the other parent might be unwilling to give.
What happens if your spouse, the child’s biological parent, passes away before you? As a stepparent, in the eyes of the law you have no legal relation to your stepchild. Even if your spouse named you a legal guardian, the court may be inclined to place your stepchild in the custody of the next closest relative. This could be the child’s other biological parent who may have been out of the picture for a long time. Adopting your stepchild can prevent any of these potential custody issues, as well as ensure that you have custodial rights in case of a divorce.
Cut Bad Ties
You can adopt your stepchild even if his or her non-custodial biological parent is alive and well. However, this will require the bioparent to give up their parental rights, losing all legal ties with the child. And, in some cases, that’s exactly what you want, especially if this parent neglected, abandoned or abused the child and/or the former spouse. If this is the situation you are in, it might make sense to sever this relationship as soon as you can. You don’t want to risk someone who has hurt your stepchild in the past making decisions about their future, even though they seem not to care about it at the moment.
A stepchild adoption is a form of independent adoption in Maryland, i.e. adoption by a private party. Stepchild adoption can be a relatively straightforward process, at least compared to adopting through an agency. It may have its own bottlenecks—but nothing an experienced Maryland family law attorney can’t help you with.
Whether you are looking to adopt your stepchildren or you found yourself in a divorce situation that involves non-adopted stepchildren, get in touch with Okun/Billian to discuss your options and get legal advice.