In marriages where one parent has a child from a previous marriage, it's quite common for the new stepparent to want to adopt the child legally. There are definitely advantages to doing so; it gives the stepparent more rights in making decisions for the child, making the child eligible for an inheritance, for example. However, adopting a stepchild isn't always as straightforward as it seems, especially in North Carolina. If you're a stepparent thinking to adopt, let's take a closer look at some of the challenges you may face.
Getting Consent from the Other Biological Parent
For many families, this one issue is the single greatest obstacle to stepparent adoption. Under North Carolina law, a child may only have two legal parents. If the other biological parent is still living, they must consent to give up their parental rights, or those rights must be legally terminated.
If the other parent is willing to relinquish their rights, they only need to fill out a consent form, and the adoption can move forward. The problem, of course, is that not every family situation is amicable. If the other parent doesn't want the child to be adopted by the stepparent—for whatever reason—they have the right to deny consent. At that point, the burden of proof is on you to convince the courts that it's in the child's best interests to terminate the other parent's rights. The judge may be willing to consider this if you can show any of the following:
- The biological parent has a pattern of abuse
- The biological parent has had little to no involvement in the raising or support of the child (i.e., they have forfeited their rights by their lack of action)
- The biological parent has failed to meet their obligations regarding the child (e.g., child support, visitation)
Consent of the Child
Another hurdle you must overcome is that under North Carolina law, if the child is 12 years old or older, you must have their consent to adopt them legally. In other words, if a teenage child doesn't want to be adopted, you can't do it—plain and simple. If you find yourself in this situation, the only way around this hurdle is to invest in the relationship and build enough trust so the child can be convinced that it's in their best interests to be adopted.
Meeting the Other Requirements
North Carolina has a few other requirements for stepparents before legally adopting their stepchildren. These include the following:
- You must be married to one of the biological parents for at least 6 months. (Living together before marriage doesn't count.)
- You have to live in the same home with the biological parent and the child. (No in-name-only adoptions, in other words.)
- You must be a resident of North Carolina for at least 6 months before petitioning for adoption.
- You have to pass a criminal background check, and you may be visited by a social worker who evaluates the home situation before recommending the adoption.
Jerkins Family Law has plenty of experience in parental rights and adoption cases in North Carolina. If you want to adopt a stepchild, we can help you overcome many of these challenges. Call us today at (919) 719-2785 or contact us online.