Adoption: Married- Single- Stepparent Adoption
You do not need to be married to adopt a child or children, but you do need to check with an adoption agency in your state as some agencies have their own requirements. If you would like to adopt a child from foster care or decide to pursue a domestic infant adoption, you may adopt as a single adult. If you have a partner but are not married to them, check with your chosen agency as well, as most states will only allow one person to adopt the child or children.
Adoption is a court proceeding through which an adult legally becomes the parent of someone who is not their biological child. This creates a legal parent-child relationship which includes child support obligations, custody rights, and inheritance. The birthparents’ legal relationship with the child is terminated, except in cases when a stepparent or “second-parent” is adopting the child, at which time only the parent without custody would lose parental rights.
Overview of Adoptions
If an married couple jointly adopts a child or children, or if one adult adopts the biological child or children of the other, both parents are considered legal parents, meaning that both parents have equal legal responsibilities to support the child/children. If the couple separates, each parent has the right to petition the court for visitation or custody of the child. That also means that each parent has an obligation to provide child support.
The process of adoption is largely and primarily dictated by state law, so check with the adoption agency of your choosing to determine what your state requires. Generally, any adult who is found to be a “fit parent” may adopt a child who has consent to be adopted. In many states, it is legal for single people to adopt. Unmarried couples may adopt jointly through what is known as single-parent adoption.
Adoption agencies can create their own guidelines about who can adopt and under what circumstances, as long as they are following their state adoption laws. This means that while your state law may allow single parent adoptions, you may find agencies within your state that are biased against unmarried couples or that make it more difficult for unmarried couples to adopt. You should be prepared to explain why you haven’t married, and be able to present a good case for your fitness as a parent. As a single person, expect to do extra work to prove that your home is a healthy and stable environment to raise children. An adoption agency will conduct a home study and interview you and your partner, if applicable, and then report their findings to the court. You may have a longer wait for a child so it is suggested to broaden your ideas about the age and type of child you want to adopt.
Stepparent and Second-Parent Adoptions
When an adult marries someone other than his or her child’s other parent and wishes to adopt their new spouse’s child, this is called a stepparent adoption. Usually the adoption is readily approved when the adopting couple is married. This type of adoption typically doesn’t cost much and may not require a home study by a social worker. The same process for unmarried couples is called a “second-parent” adoption. This type of adoption may have a higher cost and a social worker will need to complete a home study. In both cases, it is advisable to consult with a local family law attorney to evaluate your situation and inform you of your rights. Remember too that if you don’t adopt your partner’s biological child or children, you risk losing access to the child if you and your partner separate.
Both parents must consent to the adoption of the child, unless one parent has failed to establish a parent-child relationship with the child or has abandoned the child. If the father is the noncustodial parent, the adoption agency will determine if his consent is needed before the adoption can proceed. A father who signs a paternity statement, provides support, and maintains a relationship with the child can prevent the child from being adopted by another party. If the child is a baby and the father has not had an opportunity to support or visit the child, or if the mother has kept the father from the baby, he may be able to petition the court to apply for visitation or to prevent the stepparent or second-parent adoption.
If the noncustodial parent is the mother, the adoption agency will need to obtain consent from her or they may recommend her parental rights be terminated. If the mother is unmarried and does not have custody, she must pay child support if she is able to and must visit the child or face losing that child to a stepparent or second-parent adoption.
Once a person formally adopts a child, that person has all of the legal responsibilities and rights as a biological parent would, regardless of a biological connection with that child.
To Learn more about adoption go to bbas.org