What Is the Legal Process to Adopt a Stepchild?

Being a stepparent is a unique role, and after some time it may be decided that adoption is the next step in bringing two families closer together. However, adoption is a complicated process that requires involvement from both the courts and an adoption agency. Every state handles adoption differently, and the process differs when it’s a stepchild being adopted by a stepparent instead of a new child being adopted by a couple. There are certain requirements that must be met before an adoption can be processed and understanding the process before getting started can help make it a simpler experience for everyone involved.

What Are the Implications of Adopting a Stepchild?

Legally adopting a stepchild changes many things about that child’s relationship to the adoptive parent and birth parent forfeiting their legal parental rights over the child. Legally, adopting a stepchild means that:

  • The adoptive parent and their spouse get full legal custody over the child
  • The adoptive parent and their spouse no longer have the right to seek future financial support from the parent that is forfeiting their parental rights
  • The parent forfeiting their rights does so permanently
  • The parent forfeiting their rights can no longer legally participate in making important decisions for the child, such as schooling or medical care
  • The parent forfeiting their rights no longer has a legal claim to visitation with the child

What Requirements Need to Be Met to Adopt a Stepchild?

Before the process to adopt a stepchild can begin, the biological parent needs to forfeit their parental rights. The court can step in to require them to forfeit their rights through an involuntary forfeiture if they don’t do so voluntarily. However, that can only happen if the biological parent is determined to be unfit because of things like abuse or imprisonment.

Once the biological parent has forfeited their parental rights, the adoptive parent can begin the following process:

  • Completing the criminal history background check, which is required, and fingerprint based. This check must be completed no more than 90 days before filing the petition to adopt.
  • The Colorado Department of Human Services will process a TRAILS background check on the adoptive parent. This specifically checks for confirmed cases of abuse or neglect against a child.
  • Getting consent from the child’s custodial parent, which is usually the adoptive parent’s partner or spouse.
  • Get consent from the parent who is forfeiting their rights, also known as the non-custodial parent. If the non-custodial parent is unreachable and has been for at least a year, an Affidavit of Abandonment can be filed alongside the petition to adopt.
  • File the petition to adopt with the Colorado courts
  • Prepare for the hearing regarding the adoption

It is worth noting that the adoptive parent must be at least 21 years of age and must have resided in Colorado for at least 6 months prior to filing the petition to adopt.

What Might Lead to an Adoption Petition Being Denied?

Considering the requirements to legally adopt a child in Colorado, there are a few reasons a petition to adopt may be denied by the courts. Adoptive parents younger than 21 must receive permission from the court to begin the stepparent adoption process, and if they begin the process without that permission, their petition will be denied. A failed background check will also lead to a denied petition, especially if the adoptive parent has felony convictions for violent or sexual offenses or child abuse.

What Happens at an Adoption Hearing?

Once the petition to adopt has been filed with the Colorado courts, a hearing to discuss the adoption will be scheduled. During this hearing, the adoptive parent’s attorney will show the court that all the required steps for adoption to take place have been met. For example, the attorney will show the court the forfeiting parent’s consent and termination of parental rights over the child.

The attorney and adoptive parent will also be tasked with proving to the court that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. If the court agrees, they will certify the adoption by signing the paperwork. An example of such paperwork includes the Termination of Parental Rights on behalf of the forfeiting parent as well as the Stepparent Adoption petition. If the family decides that they would like to alter the child’s last name, that can also be handled at the adoption hearing.

Once the adoption has been certified by the courts, the parents can apply for a new birth certificate for the child. The new birth certificate will include their new last name if the family decided to change it, and the stepparent will be listed as one of the child’s legal guardians.

How Does the Court Determine What is in the Best Interests of the Child?

For a stepparent adoption to be successful, the court must determine that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. Some of the things the court will take into consideration when making this decision include:

  • The wishes of the parents
  • The wishes of the child if the child is determined mature enough to express reasonable preferences
  • The quality of the relationship between the parents and the child, as well as anyone else who will affect the best interests of the child
  • Whether the decision will impact the child’s home, school, and social lives negatively
  • The physical and mental health of all parties
  • The ability of both parents to place the child’s needs ahead of their own needs

Can Stepparents Adopt Children Older Than 18?

Children become legal adults when they reach the age of 18, however, it is still possible to legally adopt an adult. The process becomes simplified because it is no longer necessary to get consent from the non-custodial parent; only the child being adopted and the stepparent need to give consent.

Is Stepparent Adoption Expensive?

There are fees associated with stepparent adoption in Colorado. The cost varies, but it can cost upwards of $3,500 once all aspects of the adoption process have been completed. Attorney fees, social worker fees, background checks, and adoption fees to the state all add up to make the final price.

How Can We Prepare Our Child for the Adoption?

Adoption can be a confusing process for the children involved, even if it’s in their best interests. It is important to do what can be done to prepare the child for the adoption and doing so can make the process easier on everyone involved. Here are some tips to help the child being adopted:

  • Explain the process: Explaining the process to a child who is old enough to understand may help them feel like they are involved and understanding the benefits of the adoption may help them adjust to their new permanent situation more easily.
  • Create a safe space: If the child expresses confusion or worry about the adoption or feels upset that their biological parent is forfeiting their parental rights, listen to them. Create a space where they feel comfortable expressing their feelings about the situation.
  • Validate them: Explain to the child that their feelings are valid and that they are normal for experiencing them.
  • Create community: Enrolling the child in an adoption support group with children of a similar age can help them validate their emotions and express them to children going through similar experiences, especially if they are finding the process difficult.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you are a stepparent and you are looking to begin the adoption process, contact the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC today. We understand the emotional, social, and financial stakes involved in such a decision, which is why we work hard on behalf of our clients towards the best outcome for their situation. Planning and having quality legal counsel can help make the adoption process go as smoothly as possible. Contact us today at (303) 647-4245 or via our contact form.