Does your office handle stepparent adoptions?
Yes. Our office specializes not only in independent, traditional agency, collaborative agency, and adult adoptions but also in handling stepparent adoptions. In the typical stepparent adoption case, the stepparent wants to adopt his or her spouse’s child born in a previous relationship or marriage. We are called upon quite often to represent the petitioning stepparent in his or her effort to become the legal father or mother of the stepchild.
What’s involved in the stepparent adoption process?
The process for adopting a stepchild varies from county to county in the state of California. Our office represents clients throughout California in connection with stepparent adoptions. By means of illustration only, the process is usually started by the filing of a petition for stepparent adoption. After the paperwork required by the State Department of Social Services to start the process is completed by the adopting parent and his or her spouse, it is forwarded by our offices along with a conformed copy of the petition to the applicable state agency (Department of Children’s Services or State Department of Social Services depending on the county) for investigation. Depending on the whereabouts of the biological parent who is not participating in the adoption (in many instances the biological father) and the procedures required to either terminate his rights by judicial decree or to obtain his voluntary consent, the state agency will try to obtain the consent of the absent parent and if that the consent is obtained, a report will be submitted to the court and our office will arrange the final hearing date and attend the final hearing with our clients.
What happens if the absent parent refuses to cooperate?
There are some stepparent adoption cases where the absent parent refuses to cooperate for any number of reasons or the absent parent has vanished and cannot be found. Sometimes the absent parent has not seen or supported the child for years or the absent parent refuses to consent notwithstanding the fact that the best interests of the child would be served by the absent parent cooperating in the adoption plan. When that happens, we will arrange to terminate the absent parent’s rights as required by law. Most often we have found that by dealing diplomatically and courteously with the absent parent we are able to obtain consents without appreciable expense or difficulty in the process.
What if I do not know where the absent parent is?
In many instances when stepparent adoption petitions are filed, they are filed by a stepparent seeking to adopt his or her spouse’s child from a prior marriage or relationship. Quite often in those cases we find that the child has gone without contact and support from the absent biological parent for a significant period of time — often a matter of many months or years. As such the absent parent can be treated by the Court under the law as an abandoning parent. In recent cases coming out of the California appellate courts the law on what constitutes abandonment has been clarified. It is clear from the present state of the law in California that parenting is a full-time job and the Court will not allow an absent parent to flit in and out of the child’s life at the absent parent’s whim, regardless of the absent parent’s motivation, as a means of preventing the absent parent from being charged with abandonment. The Court continues to look at the best interests of the child in deciding abandonment petitions. In evaluating what is in the child’s best interests, certainly toward the top of the list is the need for continuity of parenting and the financial, educational, emotional and social support of both of the child’s biological parents. We will prepare the necessary abandonment paperwork, contact the military as required by law and arrange for the proper service of the citation on the absent parent either personally or by publication.
How long does it take and how much does it cost?
The time required to complete the stepparent adoption process varies depending upon the facts of each individual case. In cases where all of the parties are available and willing to sign consents the procedures can often be accomplished in as little as 120 days. In instances where the absent parent is not cooperative, the process could take appreciably longer but in most instances can be completed within one year or less. Fees for our services in connection with stepparent adoptions are billed at the prevailing hourly rate of the office at the time when the services are performed. We will happily quote you an estimated fee for doing the work based upon the particular facts of your case if you contact us.