The truth is, for the purposes of everyday life, many stepchildren already live as though they were adopted by their stepparent. Formalizing this arrangement legally can make a lot of sense, enabling the stepparent to participate fully in decisions about healthcare or education. While this type of adoption often has a more streamlined process than other kinds, there are still several basic steps you will need to navigate.
As with most legal processes, adoption begins with paperwork. The first thing you will need to do is get written consent from the other birth parent. It is important to understand that stepparent adoption does not mean adding a third parent. It means one of the other parents needs to give up his or her parental rights, including the right to participate in making decisions concerning the child.
The other parent may condition consent on getting visitation. This can be included in an agreement, which can also contain provisions concerning future support payments, if any. However, the other parent may no longer be obligated to pay child support by the state. The parent who is living with the stepparent will also need to furnish written consent.
A stepparent who is planning to adopt must complete a 30-hour parenting class that is mandatory for all prospective adoptive or foster parents. A home study is also required, during which a social worker inspects your home and evaluates whether you meet the state’s definition of a suitable home. You can also expect to submit financial and medical records to the social worker. All of this applies even if your stepchild has been living with you for many years.
Once you have completed these steps, you will be able to file an application in court and wait for the initial hearing to be scheduled. At the hearing, the judge will consider your application, as well as the evaluation submitted by the social worker. The child may also be called upon to testify. According to Tennessee law, a stepchild who is over the age of 14 cannot be adopted without a sworn statement of consent to the adoption. For younger children, this statement is not required but courts may still give a lot of consideration to the child’s view on the adoption.
After the hearing, the law allows 10 days for other relatives to contest the adoption. If no one contests it and there are no other legal issues, the court will issue a ruling once the 10 days are up. Even if your adoption case seems fairly straightforward, it is a good idea to retain a qualified attorney who can make sure that your paper work is accurate and complete. Unexpected legal issues can also crop up; if that happens, legal counsel can address problems promptly and correctly.