Adopting a stepchild is an incredibly meaningful step in life. Stepparent adoption is one of the most common types of adoption in Minnesota, and for good reason. By adopting a stepchild, you can:
- Formalize the parent-child relationship you may already have
- Gain legal parenting rights (and responsibilities)
- Give your child inheritance rights
- Strengthen your family unit
Despite the joyful nature of this milestone, the adoption process itself can be stressful – especially if unforeseen complications arise. Follow these tips to help make the adoption a success.
1. Take it seriously
Adoption is much more than just filing paperwork; it’s a weighty legal proceeding that has lifelong ramifications. It affects not only your rights as the adopting stepparent, but also those of the child and their biological parent. Adoption will change the nature of your relationship with the adoptee forever. It doesn’t end if you end up divorcing or separating from the child’s biological parent.
What’s more, adoption comes with legal responsibilities. You’ll be obligated to financially support the child (including through a formal child support obligation, if that ever becomes necessary). It will be as though the child is your own flesh and blood.
Of course, for many, that’s part of the appeal of adoption – it’s permanent. A formal adoption allows you to incorporate the child into your life in a way that nothing else can.
2. Identify potential roadblocks
Although stepparent adoption is generally straightforward, complications can still arise. It’s best to be aware of possible challenges well in advance. For example:
- Will the child’s biological parent consent to the adoption? If not, you will have to seek involuntary termination of their parental rights. Contested cases may involve significant legal (and often emotional) battles.
- Is the child eligible for membership in an Indian (Native American) tribe? If so, special considerations will come into play under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
- Is the child at least 14 years old? If so, he or she will have to agree to the adoption.
- Have you (the adopting stepparent) lived in Minnesota for at least a year? If not, you will have to ask for an exception to the residency requirement.
An attorney can help you work through these and other potential issues beforehand, so they don’t sneak up on you down the road.
3. Know what to expect
The adoption process involves several important steps, including:
- Preparing and filing detailed paperwork
- Undergoing a thorough background check
- Attending a formal court hearing to finalize the adoption
Contested cases (and those with other complicating factors) involve additional hurdles.
The best way to prepare is to know what’s ahead. By working with an adoption lawyer, you can find out what to expect in your situation and gain confidence knowing critical details won’t get overlooked.