When someone marries a person who is already a parent and a relationship is established with the child that person often considers adopting the child. This is known as step-parent adoption.
In Wisconsin a step-parent adoption involves two steps:
- Terminating the parental rights of the natural parent
- Having the Step-Parent become the legal parent
Termination of parental rights is always easier if the child’s natural parent is absent or agrees, but stepparent adoptions can occur even if both biological parents do not consent. If there are legal basis to dismiss privileges for parents, it is possible to litigate those issues on behalf of a client who believes that adoption by a step-parent would be in the best interests of the child.
In Wisconsin, step-parents must be married to a child’s other natural parent for at least six months before a petition can be filed for adoption.
Once a step-parent adopts a child, he or she becomes the legal parent of the child and gains all of the rights and responsibilities that entails. This means if the child’s biological parent dies, custody automatically passes to the adoptive step-parent. The adoptive parent assumes all responsibility for providing for the child as required under the law and would be considered a full legal parent for purposes of making medical decisions for the child and completing financial aid applications for school. The adoptive parent also gains the right to visitation and custody in the event he or she and the child’s biological parent divorce.
Step-Parent Adoption Process
The step-parent adoption process includes five steps:
- Completion and filing of the Adoption Petition
- Coordination of a hearing
- Receipt of a new birth certificate
The first step of step-parent adoption is to determine if a stepparent can legally adopt a child. In most cases, as long as the adoptive parent can effectively parent the child and is legally married to the child’s biological parent, the person should be legally eligible to adopt.
Once that is determined, the legal proceeding of adoption can begin. This begins with filing a petition with the court for adoption. The petition includes:
- Birth date and location of the birth of the child
- What name will be given to the child if it is to be changed
- Statement of how long the stepparent has lived with the child
- Reasons why the stepparent has a desire to adopt the child
The petitioners are the step-parent and the spouse of the stepparent.
Once the petition is filed, the other biological parent has a chance to oppose the adoption. If there is no contest or the absent parent consents to the adoption, the court finalizes the adoption. This results in the child receive a new birth certificate showing the child’s new name and parents.
What If My Child’s Other Biological Parent Contests the Adoption?
Sometimes, a child’s parent will refuse to consent to step-parent adoption. If this is the case, the best option is usually to file to terminate his or her parental rights. Parental rights can usually be terminated if a biological parent abandons a child or is declared incompetent and restoration of competency is medically improbable. There are also instances in which consent is considered unnecessary, such as when a biological parent
- Abandoned the child
- Executed a surrender document
- Engaged in behavior that endangered the safety, well-being, or health of the child
- Is incarcerated for an extended period
- Engaged in egregious conduct that threatened the child or any child in his or her
- care, including siblings
If it is not known where the birth mother or birth father of the child is, the petitioning parents must make an effort to locate that missing parent before the adoption can proceed.
Challenges to the Adoption
In most cases, the adoption can be challenged for up to one year, with exceptions. The date that challenges will be heard will be listed in the court documents.
Step-parent adoption can be a joyous occasion, but like all legal actions, it can also be confusing, challenging, and difficult. It is essential parents have an attorney representing their interest and ensuring that all decisions are made in the best interest of their child. Attorneys who have experience with the Wisconsin family court system who understand how the step-parent adoption process works are an essential resource during this emotional time when a family is making such a significant commitment to change.