By Megan S. Monsour, Attorney at Law
Although most step-parent situations don’t rival poor Cinderella, many step-parents do maintain the “step” in their title. Then there are step-parents who, although not the biological parent, become the child’s mother or father and the “step” fades away. I speak to many such families. A mother or father has remarried and the child from a previous relationship now knows the step-parent as the only mom or dad she has ever had. Although on the surface this may look like a two-parent family like any other, the legal distinction can be devastating.
Here are five things any step-parent family needs to know.
1. If a biological parent dies, a step-parent will not automatically trump a biological parent in a custody battle, despite the biological parent’s lack of relationship with the child. A fight between a step-parent, who a child knows and loves, and an absent biological parent after the unexpected death of the other biological parent is a nightmare. A step-parent adoption is the only sure-fire way to ensure a child will stay with the step-parent.
2. A step-parent adoption seeks to terminate the parental rights of the absent biological parent and creates parental rights in the step-parent. A consent by the biological parents is not required, although obtaining a consent makes the adoption much simpler. What is required is that the biological parent be notified of the adoption. If the biological parent does not want the child adopted by the step-parent, a judge will hear evidence and decide whether or not to allow the adoption to proceed.
3. The facts the court considers if a biological parent does object to the adoption vary depending upon the specific case, however, most commonly the court will consider whether or not the biological parent has assumed parental responsibilities and will look to what financial and emotional support has been provided to the child. In other cases, the circumstances surrounding conception of the child and pregnancy may be relevant along with the biological parent’s fitness.
4. Custody arrangements and parental rights are very different. A non-custodial parent still has parental rights. The only way to terminate a biological parent’s parental rights is by way of adoption. No agreement between the parties is binding. A step-parent adoption does end the biological parent’s obligation to pay child support because it legally terminates that person’s status as a parent.
5. A child’s name can be legally changed through a step-parent adoption. The child’s name change, like the creation of the step-parent’s rights, is a final and permanent order. Once the decree is entered, legally, it is as if the step-parent were the biological parent of the child. Thus, if the step-parent and biological parent were to later divorce, the step-parent would have the same rights and responsibilities as the biological parent in a custody dispute.
Every family has to determine what is right for them. Certainly, a step-parent adoption would not be appropriate for every blended family. However, when needed, a step-parent adoption can bring a family peace and joy, making official what they already knew in their hearts.
Megan Monsour is an attorney with Martin Pringle Law Firm. Her practice is devoted to adoption, assisted reproductive technology (ART) and child permanency litigation. She is committed to helping individuals and families realize their dreams of building a family. Megan represents both adoptive families and biological parents in their adoption journey and in a variety of other matters as well, including contested adoptions, foster care adoptions, step-parent adoptions, relative adoption, same sex and second parent adoptions. Additionally, she represents intended parents and carriers in surrogacy agreements. Megan is a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and has been recognized by Kansas and Missouri Super Lawyers as a Rising Star since 2011.
If you have questions about adoption, please feel free to contact Megan directly, at [email protected], or 316-265-9311.
For more information on Martin Pringle’s adoption & surrogacy practice, please visit their website.