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Stepparent Adoption

Stepparent adoption is one of the most common forms of adoption in North Carolina. A lot of families these days consist of second marriages and marrying someone who already has kids. Without a formal stepparent adoption, you may have no legal rights over raising your stepchild. Adopting a stepchild can be a way for the stepparent to take a more active role in caring for their family.  

If you have any questions about stepparent adoption, talk to your experienced North Carolina family law attorney about the process and your options.

Process of Stepparent Adoption

The process for stepparent adoption is generally less restrictive than other adoptions. However, it still requires meeting all the legal requirements, getting the biological parent's permission, and going through the courts to get approval. 

Under North Carolina law, the definition of a "stepparent" is: an individual who is the spouse of a parent of a child, but who is not a legal parent of the child. If you are living with the parent of another child but are not married, you are not considered a stepparent. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage, so you would have to go through the official process of getting married in order to adopt as a stepparent. 

Under North Carolina General Statutes § 48-4-101, a stepparent may file a petition to adopt a minor who is the child of the stepparent's spouse if: 

  • The parent who is the spouse has legal and physical custody of the child, and 
  • The child has resided primarily with this parent and the stepparent during the six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition. However, there may be a waiver of this requirement.

The petitioner and/or stepchild also generally need to be residents of North Carolina, living or being domiciled in North Carolina for at least the prior six months. 

Home Study and Background Checks

Before granting the adoption, a home study may be required. A home study can be conducted by a licensed agency, or through the Department of Social Services (DSS). A home study may be waived if the stepparent and spouse have been married for two years or more. There may also be postplacement visits, which may also be waived by the court. 

State and federal law also require fingerprint-based background checks for prospective adoptive parents. There may be restrictions on adoption by a stepparent for certain felony convictions. Background checks also require child abuse and neglect registry checks in each state where the stepparent has lived in the past 5 years. 

Petition for Adoption of a Minor Child by a Stepparent (DSS-5162)

North Carolina Form DSS-5162 is the petition for adoption of a minor child by a stepparent. 

Stepparent adoption also requires the consent of the child's other parent who is not the stepparent's spouse. Consent must generally be signed in writing, and include acknowledgments that the parent executing the consent is voluntarily consenting to adoption and to transfer any right the parent has to legal or physical custody of the child to the child's other parent and stepparent.  

Consent to Adoption by Parent Who Is Not the Stepparent's Spouse (DSS-5190)

North Carolina Form DSS-5190 is the form for consent to adoption by the parent who is not the stepparents' spouse. 

Rights and Responsibilities After Stepparent Adoption

After stepparent adoption, the stepparent is legally and financially responsible for the child. This includes making decisions for the child's education, medical care, and religious upbringing. The stepparent must also provide for the basic needs of the child, including food, clothing, and a place to live. 

What if My Stepchild Does Not Want to Be Adopted?

A stepchild may not want to be adopted by the stepparent. If the adoptee is 12-years-old or older, the stepchild needs to consent to the adoption. If the child does not want to be adopted, the child may be able to prevent the adoption. 

If a child is under the age of 12, they cannot prevent the adoption just because the child does not consent. However, the court may still hear from the child before the adoption and will decide what is in the best interests of the child. If the court does not think adoption is in the child's best interests after hearing from the child, the court may deny the adoption. 

Getting Consent of the Biological Parent for Adoption

Terminating parental rights for the biological parent is a serious situation. After stepparent adoption, the adoption will terminate the legal relation of parent and child between the adoptee and the parent. This includes the rights of the adoptee to inherit as a child from or through the parent. Stepparent adoption will also extinguish any court order of custody, visitation, or communication with the adoptee. 

The parent will not be responsible for ongoing child support payments. However, the parent will generally remain liable for past-due child support payments unless legally released from this obligation.

In some cases, the other parent is unknown or cannot be located. When the identity of the parent is unknown, the court may conduct a hearing to determine the parent's name or identity. If the court is unable to identify the parent, the court will order publication of the termination notice in a qualifying newspaper, giving the unknown parent a limited time to respond. 

Readoption After Stepparent Adoption

Family relationships and dynamics change over time. There is a process for readoption after a stepparent adoption in North Carolina. Under North Carolina General Statutes § 48-6-102, a former parent may petition to readopt an adoptee adopted by a stepparent. In order got readopt a child, consent must be executed by: 

  1. The adoptee, if 12 or more years of age; 
  2. The petitioner's spouse, if any; 
  3. The adoptee's adoptive parent, if the adoptee is a minor; 
  4. The adoptee's parent who is or was the spouse of the adoptive parent if the adoptee is a minor; and 
  5. Any guardian of the adoptee.  

Family Law Attorneys in Shelby, North Carolina

If you have any questions about child custody mediation in North Carolina, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC in Shelby. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.

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