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Adopting Your Stepchild: 4 Steps To Get Started

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If you are married to someone who has a child from a previous relationship, you may be considering adopting that child as your own. This frequently happens when the child's other birth parent is absent or out of the picture. But adopting your step child is not as simple as just walking down to the courthouse and signing a couple pieces of paper. Here are the four basic steps to follow in this process.

1. Talk to your spouse.

Make sure that you and your spouse have fully discussed the prospect of adoption. This can be a very emotional experience, so you want to be sure it's something everyone is on board with. There may be negative ramifications with the child's other parent, so discuss how the adoption may affect your relationship with this person -- and how you will handle any conflicts that come up. 

2. Contact an attorney.

Once you have fully discussed the matter and decided it's something you want to go through with, you should get in touch with a family law service. The lawyer can work on your behalf to request that the other parent sign the necessary paperwork. It's usually easier and more effective if this request comes from a lawyer, rather than from you. If there are any complications -- such as trouble locating the other parent -- your lawyer will know how to handle these complications.

3. Get the paperwork signed by the other parent.

In order for you to adopt the child, their other parent must first sign over their legal rights as a parent. If they initially refuse to do so when the lawyer presents them with the paperwork, don't give up. There are a lot of loopholes that your lawyer can use. If the parent has not contacted the child for longer than a certain time period, for example, their parental rights can automatically be canceled. If certain charges have been brought against the other parent, this can also be reason to cancel their rights. 

4. File a petition to adopt.

Once the other parent has signed their necessary paperwork, you and your lawyer can file a petition to adopt with the court. This petition will often involve a background check. You may then need to attend a couple of court hearings in order to have your case heard. If the court accepts the petition to adopt, a new birth certificate will be issued for the child, and you will be their legal guardian. Congratulations!