Legal Experience and Local Roots

Offering professional legal services to individuals and businesses since 1986.

Navigating the complexities of stepchild adoption

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2022 | Family Law |

When you get married, it can be the beginning of an exciting new chapter. When your new spouse has children, it can add to the excitement.

While adopting stepchildren may not be part of the plan for every situation, many new step-parents are excited to make their new relationship official for a variety of reasons. However, adopting stepchildren can come with challenges for children and adults.

Here are a few tips for going through the process of adopting your stepchildren.

Reasons to adopt stepchildren

Creating a new sense of family can be difficult for you and the other members of the family. Although you and your new spouse have spent significant time together and considered your new relationship carefully, your spouse’s children may feel like they did not have a choice. Depending on when they met you and learned about your relationship with their parent, they may have several concerns about you becoming a member of the family.

Before you start considering adopting your stepchildren, you may want to take time to form an intentional relationship with them. It will be important to establish trust and help them see that you want to have a lasting connection with them.

There are many reasons to consider adopting your stepchildren, including:

  • Medical appointments
  • School permission forms
  • Relaitonship permanence
  • Estate planning concerns

For some families, adopting stepchildren is integral to creating a more permanent sense of family and communicating to the children that you will stay with them. In other cases, stepchild adoption adds a layer of convenience since some parts of the child’s life require a legal parent or guardian, and sometimes your spouse needs additional support.

As you talk to your spouse’s children about adopting them, you should include an age-appropriate discussion about why you want to move forward with the adoption and how it can benefit everyone in the family. You should also include their biological parent to demonstrate that you are on the same team as their parents.

Knowing when the child can choose

Being adopted as a stepchild can come with many emotions. Although some children may be excited about you joining the family officially, others may waver or hesitate. Before you start the process, you should have a clear understanding of the emotional state of the children and how you want to proceed.

In Utah, you do not need the consent of the child if they are under the age of 12. However, children 12 years and older have an opportunity not to consent. In some cases, if the child lacks the mental capacity to consent to adoption, you can proceed with the adoption without demonstrating the child’s consent.

When you are facing an older child who is uncertain about being adopted, you may want to have several conversations about what it will mean for them and the family to adopt them. It is important to consider that they may have hesitations because of their prior relationship with their biological parent, even if that person is no longer in the picture.

Why children might be hesitant

Understanding why your spouse’s children might not be excited about being adopted is critical. The children will want to see that you have considered their point of view and how they feel about the situation. Keep in mind that their perspective will likely be tied to the situation with their other biological parent, such as:

  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Estrangement

These are difficult circumstances for adults and can be especially challenging for children since they can come with complex emotions and leave them feeling like they do not have control.

It is important to have several conversations with your stepchildren about their feelings about adoption and the challenges that come with it. For you, adopting stepchildren means more responsibilities. Still, for them, it can mean the feeling that you are trying to replace their other biological parent, even if that is not your intention.

The noncustodial parent

In some stepchild adoptions, the other biological parent can present significant challenges, even if they are not particularly involved in their children’s lives. Adopting your stepchildren means the other biological parent will need to consent to the adoption, thereby signing away their rights and responsibilities. Even if the parent is not involved, this action can come with many complex emotions and feelings of finality.

Ideally, the noncustodial parent is willing to consent to the adoption and will understand that it can be helpful for everyone involved. However, there may be times when you need to work with a noncustodial parent who does not consent. This can be a complex process, and you should seek skilled legal support.

Excitement about the positives

In addition to the complexities of stepchild adoption, there is also significant joy and excitement. Adoption can mean the start of a new chapter for you, your spouse and the children. In many cases, adopting stepchildren can make life as a family simpler since both parents are in the same household and can support the children.

As you move through the process, paying attention to how the children and your spouse feel about the upcoming adoption is important. Although you may be excited, they may have a more neutral perspective. They may understand the positives of adoption but still feel like they are leaving their other biological parent behind in exchange for a parent who is relatively unknown.

You may want to consider family counseling as you go through the adoption process to give everyone a chance to work through their thoughts and feelings with a professional. Also, you may want to consider giving the children more time to consider the adoption if it seems like they have not fully considered the impact it will have.