As the modern family continues to evolve, blended families are becoming more common, and these days, it’s completely normal for one or both spouses to bring children into their union from other relationships. As these families find their footing together, the next logical step is often whether or not to make the step parent/child relationship permanent.
In Texas, a stepparent can adopt their spouse’s child so long as the child’s biological parent agrees, there are no objections from the child’s other parent, and the arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
Here’s what you need to know about stepparent adoption in Texas, and why it could be such a great choice for you.
Adoption: The Basics
Whether strangers, stepparents, or grandparents, adoption is the process of shifting parental rights and responsibilities from a child’s biological parent, to an outside adult.
Unlike a guardianship, adoption is permanent and has far-reaching effects. Not only does it transfer parental power, it completely shifts the child’s family tree, requiring a new birth certificate, and altering the lines of inheritance to the child’s adopted parents.
In the eyes of the court, there is no difference between the rights and powers afforded biological parents, versus adopted ones.
Stepparent Adoption: How to Begin
In Texas, courts hold the parent/child relationship in pretty high regard.
Hence, the decision to shift this authority to an outside adult isn’t a process they take lightly, and will only be approved if the new arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
According to the Texas Family Code, stepparents who want to initiate this process should file either:
- A petition to terminate a natural, parent-child relationship; or,
- A petition for adoption.
The type of petition you need to file will depend entirely upon the circumstances
surrounding the child’s other parent.
Petition to Terminate Parental Rights
If the child’s other parent is still alive (with parental authority in tact), stepparents will need to file a petition to terminate parental rights before proceeding further. This is because parental authority can only be split two ways. Ergo, in order to give a stepparent legal rights, there can’t be a competing third interest.
Because of their strong inclination to uphold the parent/child relationship, courts don’t terminate these rights easily. Stepparents who want to take on the challenge should be prepared to back up their petition with proof that supports the claim that a continued relationship would not be in the child’s best interest. Typically, this means showing evidence of abuse, neglect, or child endangerment. Arguments that it would “just be more convenient” are almost certainly not enough to sway a judge.
Stepparents are also allowed to sue for termination if the parent has failed to either communicate or pay child support for more than a year, or if they’ve abandoned the child for more than six months.
Petition of Adoption
On the flip side, if the child’s second biological parent is either deceased, or has had their parental rights severed by a previous court order, stepparents may go directly to filing an Original Petition of Adoption.
In these instances, the child’s living biological parent (the spouse to whom the stepparent is married) is required to approve of the adoption by joining the case as a second petitioner.
Stepparent Adoption: Next Steps
Once your case has been initiated, the next phase of stepparent adoption requires spouses to:
- Complete a home study;
- Obtain child consent; and,
- Attend a court hearing.
A home study is a mandatory inspection that ensures stepparents understand—and are adequately prepared—to take on the task of childrearing. The purpose of this assessment isn’t meant to be adversarial, but rather, mostly focuses on ensuring the child will be raised in a safe and healthy environment.
Inspections generally run between $500-$1500, and must be completed by a licensed home study agent.
A home study is required for all adoptions, whether or not the child has already been living with you. Stepparent adoptions are not exempt.
Spousal consent isn’t the only permission that matters in stepparent adoptions. Indeed, Texas courts also require the written consent of any child twelve and up, before the arrangement can be approved.
While children are not technically old enough to enter into contractual agreements, getting their written approval (even if it’s not legally binding) helps solidify the gravity of the arrangement, and ensures they are willing participants to the process.
The final hurdle to stepparent adoption is to attend a hearing. Here, a judge will review your petition, and make sure you’ve met all the necessary requirements to become the child’s legal parent.
In addition to the points we’ve already made, this will also include a criminal background check. As a matter of law, individuals with felony convictions, sexual crimes, drugs, abuse, and crimes against children are not allowed to adopt.
If your adoption includes a petition to terminate parental rights, the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the child’s biological parent to voice objects. The complexity of the arguments will ultimately determine how long this hearing takes. Ultimately, the judge will decide all arguments based on what is in the child’s best interest.
Why Stepparent Adoption?
Marriage can be tricky enough to navigate, all on it’s own. Throw children to the mix—
especially ones from other relationships—and suddenly there’s a lot more to keep track of than just getting along with your new spouse. Which might beg the question: Why stepparent adoption at all?
Aside from eliminating the “You’re not my real dad!” argument, here are three we think are the most significant motivators.
1. Legal Authority
There’s no question that childrearing is easier when played as a team sport. However, without full parental authority, adding a “step” to Team Parent’s roster is kind of like signing on an injured player: really great, but also limited. Stepparents can’t arrange doctor’s appointments, make education decisions, or even sign that school field trip form, all of which can be really frustrating to daily productivity.
Adoption solves this problem, allowing them to execute a whole host of simple, everyday tasks without having to worry bout legalities.
2. Inheritance and Parenting Claims
Stepparent adoption also makes the uncertainty around death much more simple, cutting off any potential inheritance squabbles before they can arise, drawing a clear line in the probate mud.
In addition, it ensures a child can’t be taken away from a stepparent, if the couple is divided by either death, or divorce, legitimizing a stepparent’s claims to custody.
Finally, one of the strongest motivators for stepparent adoption is good, old-fashioned love. While parenting might be exhausting, the task is ultimately an incredibly rewarding one. And when placed in these roles long enough, it’s not uncommon for stepparents to develop genuine, heartfelt affection for their spouse’s child—a relationship they want made official to the world.
Never underestimate the importance of ceremony.
Stepparent Adoption Attorneys in Texas
Stepparent adoption isn’t easy—especially if the child’s other parent is around to protest the arrangement. With so many complicated nuances, it’s important to have a family law attorney you trust, which is why we hope you’ll choose us.
For more questions about stepparent adoption, and whether or not your situation might apply, call Neal Ashmore at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help make ensure your stepchild’s best interests are being met.