Adopting your Stepchildren

The Brady Bunch was meant to be a humorous show about the difficulties of merging two families with kids. But 50 years after the show debuted, there isn’t really any joke about it. Merged families are the norm, and for parents working to ensure that their kids feel part of a new family unit, there can be unique challenges.

When you’re acting as a stepparent, you’re familiar with the challenges of providing parental guidance in a substitute role. If the child’s biological parent is absent or unknown, the stepparent usually feels more free to take an active role.

Many stepparents choose to go the extra mile in adopting their stepchild. The adoption process can be sticky, but here are four things to keep in mind if you choose to adopt a stepchild.

1. For estate planning purposes, the stepchild is now your child.

If your will leaves things split “between my children,” this includes both biological and adopted children. You can, of course, disinherit (or limit the inheritance of) a specific child. This means that you may still adopt a child without allowing them the same inheritance as your children. For stepparents adopting a child, this often isn’t a concern. If you want to treat them like your kids during life, you may wish to treat them like your kids after death. But you should still be aware that, absent clear language in your will, the adopted stepchild becomes your “issue” for all legal purposes. And if you don’t have a will, the adopted stepchild will inherit by default. (And if you don’t have a will—get one!).

2. Adoption will require the biological parent you’re “replacing” to terminate parental rights.

In the event that the “original” parent is still involved in the child’s life, that parent will have to terminate parental rights for you to adopt your stepchild. Your spouse’s co-parent may have good reasons to agree to terminate rights, however. For example, the co-parent who terminates their rights will not have to pay child support and will not have obligations as a parent. If the co-parent is far behind on child support to begin with, it may benefit all parties for the stepparent to adopt.

If the biological parent you are replacing has passed away or was never known, then the process is simpler. You can step into that role with the consent of the biological parent.

3. In the event of a divorce, both of you will have custody rights.

One more thing you should consider when adopting your stepchild is that you will acquire legal rights as a parent. This means you can make decisions about the child’s schooling, rearing, discipline, religious instruction and more. In the event that you and the child’s parent separate, you’re entitled to custody rights the same way a biological parent would be. An adoption is a permanent mechanism, and it doesn’t dissolve just because the parental relationship does.

4. Adopting a stepchild can help the stepchild feel part of a “real” family.

Not every child will feel the same way about being adopted by a stepparent. There can be a feeling of loss for the child who loses connection, even in an intangible way, with the “original” biological parent. And the adoption by a stepparent can change the relationship from a more “fun-loving” relationship to one that is more serious. But many children express happiness about the family situation normalizing. Some stepchildren want the opportunity to see their stepparent as their “real” parent and claim a sense of normalcy in the process.

Obviously, depending on the child’s age, it’s important to speak with the stepchild together as a family and see how he or she will feel about this step. A child’s preferences should not be disregarded lightly, and it might make sense to let the process take some time as all of you adjust to the idea of an adoption before taking the steps to formalize the relationship.

Conclusion: Adopting a stepchild is a big decision

In conclusion, adopting your stepchild can be a beautiful and loving thing to do. It also requires some effort to accomplish. Most importantly, everyone involved in the situation needs to understand that it is permanent. If you’re considering adopting a stepchild, call the family law attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm so we can help you through the process and help you consider all of the options. Our attorneys love adoptions, and we’re here to help you figure out the process.