The term “nontraditional family” has become a bit of a misnomer in modern times. The prevalence of divorce and other societal changes have created a world where there truly is no easily defined normal family structure. What hasn’t changed is that strong bonds create strong families. To reinforce that strength, many stepparents choose to adopt their stepchildren.
Family Law and Noncustodial Parents
You may have read elsewhere that the birth parent’s consent is always required to adopt a stepchild. This is not strictly true, and greatly oversimplifies the matter. While obtaining the birth parent’s consent may make the road easier, you do have options if that consent is denied. Most of these situations will, however, require the involvement of a family law attorney.
The law does recognize a birth parent’s rights, assuming the parent holds up his or her end of the bargain by taking parental responsibility. If the birth parent maintains a presence in the child’s life, provides the necessary court-dictated child support and is not abusive, then yes, in most cases you will need to obtain consent.
Absent and Abusive Parents
Even if a birth parent refuses consent, you may still be able to sever the relationship legally. These cases are situational, but family law does account for removing an absent or abusive parent from a child’s life so that a stepparent can legally cement the role he or she is likely already performing.
Although state laws vary, you can generally get the court to recognize abandonment when a child has not had contact with a birth parent for at least one year. Financial support plays a role in this as well. Even if the parent has remained in contact with the child, if there is court-ordered child support involved, and if that child support has gone unpaid for more than a year, many judges will be open to legally severing the parent-child relationship.
Abuse on the part of the birth parent may also play a part in the judge’s decision.
The aim of family law is to look out for the welfare of the child. Presented with evidence of abuse, most family court judges are more likely to side with the step-parent in matters of legal custody. Consider hiring a family law attorney to assist in proving abuse or abandonment.
Other Options for Termination of Parental Rights
Biological parents who have not abused or abandoned their children, but who have been convicted of serious crimes, may be in danger of losing their parental rights involuntarily. Certain crimes indicate to the family court system that the perpetrator is an unfit parent. This is handled on a case-by-case basis, and usually requires the assistance of a family law attorney.
The remaining option is a variation on the lack of financial support.
Some parents, unfortunately, must be forced into paying child support by legal means. In these cases, the biological parent may have at some point attempted to hide income or otherwise deceive the court system. Even if the parent has made regular child support payments, any previous attempts to avoid those payments may persuade a judge to terminate parental rights.
When You Need an Attorney
Any of the approaches detailed above may be pursued without assistance. However, a family law attorney who is acquainted with the local laws can be beneficial to helping your adoption give legal validity to the family that already exists for you and your stepchild.