Understanding Massachusetts Stepparent Adoption
“Family” in today’s world can mean many things and take many forms. Stepparents can play an important role in a child’s life and face unique challenges. In some situations, stepparents may choose to expand their roles and formally adopt their stepchildren.
While this is not appropriate in every stepparent relationship, there are situations in which it makes sense, such as when the biological parent is absent from the child’s life and the stepparent is taking on a significant role in child-rearing.
In a stepparent adoption, a stepparent is taking over the legal role of a biological parent. To proceed, the stepparent must file a petition seeking to adopt the child. As long as the biological parent agrees, the court will approve the adoption so long as the parent is eligible to adopt the child.
If the noncustodial biological parent does not consent to the adoption, a stepparent may seek to have parental rights terminated and for the adoption to proceed. Termination of parental rights is available in cases of abandonment as well as incompetency or unfitness.
When filing for adoption, the stepparent’s spouse must be the parent with legal and physical custody. Additionally, the child must have lived primarily with the stepparent and parent during the previous six months. Stepparent adoption is available to all married couples, including those in same-sex marriages.
Important Considerations In Stepparent Adoption
Once a stepparent adoption is final, the child’s legal relationship with the noncustodial biological parent is severed. While that parent may be responsible for child support through the date of adoption, that responsibility ends going forward. The child also loses rights to inherit through intestacy (when there is no will) from the biological parent whose rights are terminated.
On the flip side, the former stepparent, now parent, becomes the legal and physical guardian of the child. Their name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate and the law recognizes them as the child’s parent. This means that in the event of a divorce from the child’s other parent, they may have an obligation to pay child support, provide health insurance, and/or pay college expenses. It also means the child will be able to inherit from the adoptive parent.
Need Help With Your Stepparent Adoption Case?
Adopting a stepchild is an important emotional and legal decision. If you would like more information or want to begin the adoption process, contact Donovan O'Connor & Dodig, LLP. We have offices in North Adams and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We can be reached at 413-663-3200 or online.