Why Consider a Step-Parent Adoption
As a step-parent you may love your step-children as if they were your own, and you may fulfill many, if not all, parental duties. Despite this, you do not have a secure legal relationship with your step-child. Your relationship with the child depends on the consent of the legal parent(s). If the legal parent dies or becomes incapacitated there is nothing that guarantees that the child will remain with you.
Adoption benefits the child as well. An adoption secures your relationship with the child and gives a sense of permanency, further the child will be entitled to receive social security benefits in the event of your death and will be entitled to inherit from you, even if you were to die without a Will. Once you adopt your step-child you will have a legally protected parental relationship with your child.
Same-sex couples also use the step-parent adoption process to secure legally recognized parental rights for (typically) the non-biologically related parent.
Requirements of Step-Parent Adoption in New York
When the legal parent of a child marries or re-marries, that parent's spouse may adopt his or her child through a stepparent adoption in New York.
Certain requirements must be met for the court to approve a step-parent adoption:
- Both parents (your spouse and the other biological parent) must consent to the adoption, unless a court determines that the other parent's consent is not legally required. This depends on many factors, such as whether the other parent is named on the child's birth certificate and the extent to which he or she has taken physical, emotional and financial responsibility for the child;
- The child must consent to his or her own stepparent adoption if the child is more than 14 years old;
- The step-parent must be fingerprinted and cleared through the child abuse registry; and
- The court will order an investigation ( a home study report, usually conducted by a social worker) to determine whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child.
A step-parent who has resided with the adoptive child for more than a year before the adoption petition is filed does not have to be certified as a qualified adoptive parent (a procedure other adoptive parents must complete).
A step-parent adoption terminates the rights of the child's other biological/legal parent. This can occur either because the other legal parent voluntarily consented or because the court found that the other parent's consent is not legally required. The “parent” whose rights are terminated by the court will lose the right to seek custody or visitation with the child and will also be released from any parental responsibilities (including child support obligations). Your spouse will also consent to the adoption but his or her parental rights will continue.