You consider your family to be complete. You and your spouse have found a comfortable rhythm, and your children seem happy and healthy. Nevertheless, there is one thing you wish you could change, and that is that you would have legal rights and responsibility for your spouse's child from a previous relationship.
In most states, including Tennessee, adopting a stepchild is typically easier than seeking to adopt in other ways. Because of the strong relationship that may already exist between you and your stepchild, the court often waives parts of the process to which other adoptive parents must submit. However, you still have important hurdles to cross if you are to achieve your goal.
Terminating parental rights
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome is obtaining consent if the child's biological parent is still in the picture. In some cases, the other parent may willingly relinquish parental rights. However, this is not always the case, and you may find yourself facing a noncustodial parent who refuses to consent to your adoption of his or her child.
This does not necessarily mean your chances of adoption are over. In some cases, the court may involuntarily terminate the parental rights of the noncustodial parent, including these examples:
- The parent has abandoned the child.
- The parent refuses to pay court-ordered child support.
- The parent shows inconsistent interest in visitation or support of the child.
- You are unable to locate the parent.
- The parent fails to respond to your petition to terminate his or her parental rights.
If your spouse's child is 14 or older, the court may require the child to grant consent before the adoption can go forward. Once you have consent from the parent and child, you can begin the process by carefully completing and filing the appropriate paperwork. You may benefit from legal counsel in this endeavor. An attorney can help ensure your documents are filed with the correct court to prevent delays.
What happens after I have consent?
After your paperwork is complete, the court will generally schedule an appointment for your hearing. Unlike other adoptions, stepchild adoptions typically do not require a waiting period, a home visit or a preliminary hearing.
At your adoption hearing, the judge will question you to obtain a more thorough understanding of your commitment to accepting legal responsibility for the child and raising him or her as your own. If your hearing is successful, the court will likely approve the adoption of your stepchild.