How Do I Proceed With a Stepparent Adoption?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Adoption on Wednesday November 6, 2013

November is National Adoption Month, and we thought we would recognize it by sharing two posts on adoption in Missouri.  Last year, over 2,000 adoptions occurred in Missouri, roughly evenly split between stepparent or agency adoptions and private adoptions.  Each procedure has its own set of legal issues.

In this post we examine the stepparent adoption, perhaps the easiest and most common form of adoption.  When a parent remarries and the other parent has either died or plays a very minor role in the child’s life, and the new stepparent has taken an active and loving role in raising his or her stepchild, the new couple may seek to solidify their family through adoption.  A stepparent adoption has the legal effect of classifying the adopted child the same as if he or she were the natural child of the adoptive parent, which means that all laws relating to children – from dependent tax exemptions to statutory rights of inheritance – apply to the newly adopted child.  It also means that in the event the new couple should divorce in the future, the stepparent shall have the same duties of child support as if he or she was the natural parent of the child.

Adoption is governed by statute in Missouri.  To procure a stepparent adoption, the natural parent and the stepparent petition the court for permission to adopt.  In order for a stepparent adoption to proceed, the petitioning parties must have consent of the other natural parent and the child.  If the child is at least fourteen years old, the child may give consent by signing the consent form.  If the child is younger than fourteen years of age, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem for the child to determine if the adoption is in the best interests of the child.  In essence, the guardian ad litem provides the consent for the child.  With regard to the other natural parent, consent is not required if a court has already terminated that person’s parental rights, if the parent’s identity cannot be determined, if the parent fails to respond after receiving service of process of the adoption proceeding, if the parent has abandoned the child for at least six months prior to the filing of the petition, or if the parent is deemed mentally incompetent.  If none of these conditions have been met, the petitioning parents must secure the written consent of the other parent to adopt, said consent a knowing recognition of all the rights that parent will forego to the child by virtue of the adoption proceeding.

Once the parties have filed their petition and secured consent, the Division of Social Services will conduct an investigation of the parties and the home to determine that the adoptive parent is fit and that the home adequate for the adoptive child and that the adoptive child desires the adoption.

After a successful completion of all paperwork that secures consent and the submission of the social service investigation to the parties and the court, the court will set the petition for a hearing, at which time it will determine that all procedures have been followed and that the adoption would be in the best interests of the child.  At the close of the hearing, the court will enter a decree of adoption.

Stepparent adoptions usually proceed without incident unless the natural parent seeks to challenge any termination of parental rights or the stepparent seeking to adopt has a problematic background that might render him unfit to parent.

It should be noted that although Missouri does not recognize same sex marriage, Missouri law does not explicitly prohibit a same sex couple, or a single homosexual individual, from filing a petition to adopt.

Navigating the procedures to secure a stepparent adoption involves a great deal of complexity and requires the assistance of an attorney who has experience handling these matters.

In our next post we will discuss private and agency adoptions.

If you have questions about stepparent adoptions, contact us – we can help.

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