What is a step-parent adoption?
Most commonly, it is a situation where a man is married to a woman who has a child from a prior marriage or relationship, and the man wants to adopt her child. It could also be the case that the man has a child from a prior relationship, and the woman wants to adopt the child.
How do I start?
If you call us for a free consultation regarding a step-parent adoption, we will explain to you the steps that are involved, and the logical order to proceed. How to start depends on the facts of your particular case.
How long do we have to be married?
There is no hard and fast rule on how long you have to be married for a step-parent adoption to be granted. In fact, you don’t have to be married at all to adopt the child of your partner. (See the next two questions.) The court is looking at the commitment between the custodial parent and the person seeking to adopt. The length of the relationship is a factor. There is no statutory time requirement, but one year is acceptable to most courts.
Do we have to be married?
No. Marriage is not a requirement in the adoption laws in the state of Washington.
What is a second-parent adoption?
It is basically the same as step-parent adoption, except that the custodial biological (or legal) parent and the adopting parent are not married to one another. Not all couples marry these days. Many couples who are in long-term committed relationships want to adopt the child of the other partner. This can include same-sex couples and opposite sex couples. So long as the person seeking to become the parent is qualified and capable of being a good parent, a second-parent adoption is generally possible. The court is interested in what is in the best interest of the child.
What happens to the child support obligation of the non-custodial parent?
When the parental rights of the non-custodial parent (usually the biological father) are terminated as part of the adoption proceeding, any future child support obligation he has comes to an end. The termination of his parental rights does nothing to any past-due child support obligation he might have. However, it is sometimes possible for the past-due child support obligation to be forgiven if all parties, including the custodial parent, agree.
Does the child get a new birth certificate?
Yes. At the final court hearing, a Decree of Adoption will be entered by the court. The Decree of Adoption will request or direct the Department of Health in Washington (or a similar department in the state of the child’s birth, if other than Washington) to issue a new birth certificate for the child simply substituting in the name of the adoptive parent for the non-custodial parent whose rights were terminated. The new birth certificate will look just like all other birth certificates. There will be no mention of adoption on the birth certificate. Anyone looking at the birth certificate would logically presume the adoptive parent was the biological parent.
Does the child’s name change as a part of the step-adoption?
Usually, the child’s name is changed by the Decree of Adoption. The change would be reflected on the child’s new birth certificate. However, the child’s name might not be changed. If the child is older, say in his/her mid-teens, he/she might not want the name changed. This is an area of great flexibility. Some people are very creative when it comes to names.
Does it make a difference if we live in Washington, but the child is born in another state or country?
No. Generally, if you live in Washington, you can proceed with the adoption in the Superior Court of the State of Washington. If the child was born in another state, the new birth certificate will be requested from the state of the child’s birth. If the child was born in a different country, the State of Washington will issue a new birth certificate for the child.
Does the birth father have to consent to the adoption?
Ideally, you will want the birth father to consent to the step or second-parent adoption.
What if the birth father won’t consent to the adoption?
If the birth father’s consent can’t be obtained, you may still be able to complete the adoption. There are cases where the birth father is unlocatable or simply declines to cooperate. In this situation, there is a legal procedure available to try to terminate the birth father’s rights involuntarily. Sometimes the birth father’s position is not clear. It may be well worth it to talk to an adoption attorney to evaluate the situation. The attorney may discuss with you and the birth father the possibility of an open adoption, the termination of future child support obligation, and other issues which may make the adoption more appealing to the birth father.
If the birth father is truly a responsible parent and opposes the idea of adoption, it is unlikely his rights will be terminated, or that an adoption will take place.
What if the birth father is not on the birth certificate?
It does not matter. We still need to terminate the legal relationship between him and the child.
What if the birth father has no visitation rights, and has not been in the child’s life for years?
We still need to terminate the legal relationship between him and the child. Washington state does not have automatic “abandonment laws.”
Does the step-parent adoption bring to an end any relationship the birth father had with the child?
The legal relationship comes to an end. This includes any rights to visitation, any future financial obligations, and the child will cease to be the birth father’s legal heir. If there was a child support obligation, it comes to an end for the future, but not as to past-due child support. The name of the biological parent whose rights will be terminated will not be on the birth certificate.
HOWEVER, depending on the circumstances, a relationship may still continue. It is not uncommon that the child will still have some contact with the former parent, presuming this is acceptable to the child’s parents. Sometimes a contact agreement is created and approved by the court. If all agree, the agreement can provide for the exchange of pictures, telephone conversations, visits, etc. This is another area where there is room for flexibility and creativity.
Does the child have any say in this?
The older the child is, the more the attitude and position of the child will be considered by the court. If the child is fourteen years of age or older, the court will require the written consent of the child before a Decree of Adoption will be granted.
What if the child does not know the step-parent/second-parent is not his/her biological parent?
This is a good issue to discuss with your adoption social worker and your attorney on a case by case basis. It should be noted that the child will generally need to be present at the final hearing for the entry of the Decree of Adoption.
What if the child is eighteen years of age or older?
If the child is eighteen or older, this becomes an adult adoption. This type of adoption is much less complicated. No social worker report is required. There is no requirement of notice or consent by the birth parent whose rights are being terminated. It is a relatively straightforward procedure.
What does the court actually do in a step/second parent adoption?
The court will review the home study or post-placement report prepared by a court approved social worker, terminate the parental rights of the non-custodial parent, and enter a Decree of Adoption. The Decree of Adoption will constitute the petitioning parent as a parent of the child. The court will direct the appropriate department in the state where the child was born to issue a new birth certificate, substituting in the name of the new parent. The Decree of Adoption usually, but not always, will change the name of the child.
What happens to the child’s original birth certificate?
In Washington, the original birth certificate is not destroyed after a new one is issued. The original birth certificate is sealed, and cannot be accessed except by a court order, or after the adoptee becomes eighteen, he or she may ask the state for the names of the birth parents on his/her original birth certificate. That information will be revealed to the adoptee at that time, unless the birth parent has filed an affidavit with the state blocking that information.
Do I have to have a home study?
Yes, a home study, or what the statutes refer to as a “post-placement report”, will be ordered by the court when you file your Petition for Adoption, except in the case where you are adopting an adult.
How do I obtain a home study?
Home studies or post-placement reports in step/second parent adoptions are usually prepared by an independent adoption social worker. An experienced adoption attorney should be able to provide you with information regarding how to locate adoption social workers. The adoption laws of the State of Washington provide that these reports may be prepared by an individual approved by the Court, a qualified, salaried court employee, a licensed adoption agency or the Department of Social and Health Services.
I hope the information in this document is helpful. These are, of course, general answers to general questions. For specific answers in particular situations you should contact an experienced adoption attorney or other adoption professional, to be certain you are getting the correct answers to questions based on your particular circumstances. Once again, if you have any questions or want any additional information, feel free to call me.
HOW CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ON STEP-PARENT AND SECOND-PARENT ADOPTIONS?
Give us a call at 206-728-5858. The initial phone consultation is free of charge.
ALBERT G. LIRHUS