In this day and age, more and more families are blended. People with children from other relationships enter marriage or a second marriage, creating stepparent-stepchild relationships. While a stepparent may play a significant role in the new family unit, he or she has virtually no parental rights in the event the marriage is dissolved or a separation occurs. One way that stepparents can improve their legal position is through adoption.
Custody decisions are based on what is in the best interest of the child, which takes into consideration multiple factors. Deference is given to preserving the child’s relationship with both parents. But in order for a stepparent to obtain custody or visitation rights following a divorce or separation, he or she must meet the heightened standard of showing that terminating or restricting the relationship would cause harm to the child.
Adoption elevates the status of a stepparent to that of a legal parent, which means the usual best interest standard applies. Stepparent adoption in New Jersey generally requires that both of the child’s biological parents consent to the adoption, since one of them will be giving up their parental rights. Sometimes a court will find that the consent of a biological parent is not required if there is a showing of neglect or abuse by that parent. Additionally, if the stepchild is over the age of 10, the child must also consent to the adoption. Assuming a stepparent has the consent of the biological parents and child, the adoption of a stepchild proceeds like any other private placement adoption, which includes successful completion of a home study by an approved agency.
Once the adoption is complete, the stepparent may be found eligible for the same custody and visitation privileges that a biological parent can acquire. Adopting the child also allows the stepparent to step in and take care of their stepchild in the event that a biological parent is incapacitated or passes away.
If you are concerned about your ability to maintain a relationship with your stepchild in the event of separation or divorce, you should consult an experienced family law attorney to discuss the adoption process and whether it may be the right approach in your situation.
At the Law Offices of Kisha M. Hebbon, LLC in Somerset, we frequently assist parents, including stepparents, in the adoption process and in child custody proceedings. For a free initial consultation, please call the office at 732-873-6464 or contact the firm online anytime.