Stepparent adoption is one of the most common forms of adoption in New Jersey. As our Freehold family law attorneys can explain, when a stepparent agrees to become the legal parent of their stepchild, they become fully responsible for that child. The effect of a stepparent adoption is that the noncustodial parent (the one not living with the child) no longer has any rights or responsibilities for that child – and that includes child support.
New Jersey stepparent adoption sometimes stems from the death of one parent followed by the subsequent remarriage of the surviving parent. It is also considered when a non-custodial parent fails to bond with, care for or support the child or children in question. It may be used to shore up parental rights for the non-biological parent in an LGBTQ couple. For many, the purpose of stepparent adoption is to legalize a bond and commitment that has long been a reality.
Last year, The Two River Times reported on 24 children in Monmouth County formally adopted on International Adoption Day. Four of those were stepparent adoptions.
Adoption of a stepchild is different than those done through a private adoption agency or the state’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). Any legal questions that may arise during a stepparent adoption will be governed by state law. In New Jersey, Rule 5:7B governs actions for adoption of a child.
Common questions in these cases include:
- The legal requirements necessary to complete the process.
- The legal duties and rights of birth parents.
- The eligibility of same-sex couple stepparents.
The good news is stepparent adoption often is not as difficult as other types of adoption, but it truly depends on the circumstances. Two basic things must happen to initiate a stepparent adoption:
- The stepparent must be married to the child’s biological parent.
- The non-custodial parent’s rights have been terminated (or the other parent is dead).
The rights of a biological parent can be either voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Termination of parental rights is a life-altering decision that should only be made after careful consideration.
The parental rights of a biological, non-custodial parent may be terminated involuntarily by court order if:
- Non-custodial parent cannot be found.
- Non-custodial parent has a conviction for abuse, abandonment, neglect or cruelty toward a child.
- Termination is found to be in the best interests of the child.
- Parent failed to comply with recommendations of the DCPP.
When a parent’s rights are terminated, he or she no longer has the right to custody or parenting time. They lose the right to make decisions about the child’s health care, education or religion. It also means that custodial parents lose any right to pursue child support or reimbursement of child-related expenses from the parent whose rights have been terminated.
A biological parent may also voluntarily opt to terminate their parental rights. The DCPP provides a Voluntary Surrender of Parental Rights Form that asks a series of questions to ensure the parent voluntarily surrendering their rights fully understands what they are giving up and that they are of sound mind to do so.
What if I am a Same-Sex Stepparent?
Same-sex stepparents can secure the same rights via stepparent adoption as those in heterosexual relationships. This is largely thanks to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land (though it has been recognized in New Jersey since 2013 with the New Jersey Superior Court’s ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow.
If you need assistance with a stepparent adoption, our Freehold family law attorneys can help.
Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.