A stepparent adoption is one of the more technical types of cases in family law. While any case can be filed without an attorney, the process of adoption can be tricky to navigate alone. A St. Louis stepparent adoption lawyer can speed up the process and help avoid the pitfalls that would keep your adoption from being granted. In fact, in some circuits, the Court does not allow parties to file an adoption without a family law attorney assisting them.
In St. Louis County, there is one Judge that handles the majority of the stepparent adoption cases and then a second Judge that handles backup adoption cases if litigants take a change of Judge or if the regular adoption Judge is not available.
Let’s explore more information about stepparents adoption and the adoption Court process.
What is a Stepparent Adoption?
Stepparent adoption is the legal process for a stepparent to become the parent of a child or children. Specifically, the stepparent will replace a natural parent or biological parent on the birth certificate of their stepchild as if the child were born to them. Typically, the custodial parent of a child remarries and their spouse adopts and the parental rights of an uninvolved, non-custodial parent are terminated. It is a very satisfying journey for both the stepparent and the stepchild.
If you reside in St. Louis, Missouri, then your stepparent adoption would be filed in the St. Louis County or St. Louis City Circuit Court and be assigned to the juvenile court. Stepparent adoption is one of the main types of adoption that can be heard by the court.
What Happens in Juvenile Court?
The juvenile court is a division of the circuit court that handles serious matters involving children. This includes neglect and abuse cases, termination of parental rights cases, and delinquency cases. And the juvenile court will also handle adoption in Missouri, including stepparent adoptions, agency adoptions, private adoptions, foster care adoptions, interstate adoptions, international adoptions, and grandparent adoptions.
The Process of Stepparent Adoption
Compared to the other types of adoptions, stepparent adoptions are a bit different. All adoptions require a formal transfer of custody followed by a six-month waiting period. However, stepparent adoption is the one type of adoption that does not require the transfer of custody and some Judges do not require a full six months before it can be finalized.
For example, in St. Louis County, some of the Judges that have handled adoptions just require that the petitioning parents have been married for at least six months before the adoption is finalized, even if some of those six months occurred before the case was filed.
Stepparent adoption is also slightly different in that some Judges do not require a formal home study. In certain circuits, the Judges will ask the Guardian ad Litem to conduct a suitability study instead. In other circuits, your stepparent adoption attorney can file a Motion to Waive the home study.
How Does a St. Louis Stepparent Adoption Lawyer Help?
The case begins when a Petition for Stepparent Adoption is filed with the Circuit Court. Once the case is accepted and assigned to a Judge, the non-petitioning natural parent must be served with the paperwork. The Court then appoints a Guardian ad Litem who completes a suitability study or a home study is waived or conducted. The stepparent adoption attorney completes some standard background checks.
Once these initial steps are complete, the case is set for a finalization hearing. A stepparent adopts a child and finalizes the adoption at this finalization hearing.
Does the Other Parent Have to Agree to an Adoption?
During an adoption, there are multiple paths to resolution. The easiest path is if the parent who will be losing his or her parental rights consents to the adoption. However, there are exceptions under Missouri law that allow for an adoption to be granted even if the other parent does not agree.
If a natural parent abandons a child for a period of more than six months right before the filing of the stepparent adoption case, then the adoption can be granted without his or her consent. Similarly, if a natural parent fails to provide necessary care and protection for that six-month period, their consent is also not needed.
Are There Any Risks for the Biological Parent?
If the stepparent adoption is granted, the natural parent will now share full parental rights with their spouse. In many instances, the current spouse is a much more active parent than the prior natural parent that has had his or her rights terminated. This should make for a more stable home for the child. However, if after the adoption the natural and adoptive parents get divorced, they will have to deal with custody and child support just like any other natural-born child.
Are There Any Downsides for the Stepparent?
A stepparent adoption makes the stepparent a full natural parent. That includes inheritance rights, even if the relationship with the adoptive child turns sour at some point. This is now the child of the adoptive parent, for better or worse.
Is a Stepparent Adoption the Same Thing as a Second Parent Adoption?
Second-parent adoption is a phrase that includes a group of adoptions where a second parent must go through the adoption process to become a parent of a child. This group includes stepparent adoptions. It can also include LGBTQ adoptions, whether one or both or neither of the prospective parents are genetically linked to the child.
Time to Adopt Your Stepchild
If you are seeking adoption, whether as a birth parent or an adoptive parent, let us help. We can help you transition from a biological parent and stepparent to a complete adoptive family, which will transform your child’s life. Our law firm can provide a stepparent adoption lawyer to help you through the process. Contact us today.