Stepparent Adoption

Being a parent is a rewarding, yet difficult job. When you're a stepparent, the job can present additional challenges as you fill an important niche in a child's life. Sometimes stepparents choose to further expand their role by adopting their stepchildren. However, there are legal hurdles that must be crossed to formalize that relationship. This article will provide answers to some of the most common questions about stepparent adoption, including:

  • The legal requirements needed to complete the process
  • The duties and rights of the birth parents
  • The eligibility of same-sex couple stepparents

I want to adopt my spouse's children. How difficult is it to adopt stepchildren?

It is generally not as difficult as other types of child adoption but there are still steps that must be taken. In a stepparent adoption where the child already resides in the household with a birth parent and the stepparent, some of the home visit requirements may not apply. The main issue that most stepparents adopting a stepchild face is obtaining consent from the other birth parent.

Do I need consent from the birth parents to adopt my stepchild?

Yes. In all stepparent adoptions, the consent of both birth parents is required. However, if a birth parent's parental rights have been terminated, then that birth parent's consent is not required.

Getting consent from the other birth parent is often difficult because it means that the birth parent is giving up all parental responsibilities. If the birth parent doesn't have a relationship with the child, the stepparent may have an easier time getting consent.

If the other birth parent does not consent, can their rights be terminated anyway?

There are ways to terminate the other birth parent's parental rights, which would eliminate the requirement of their consent. Parental rights can be terminated if you can prove the other parent:

  • Abandoned the child
  • Is unfit
  • Is not the biological parent


The term "abandonment" means that the parent has not communicated with the child or provided financial support for the child. If the other birth parent has continuously failed to provide child support or has abandoned the child for a length of time (from six months to one year in most states), then their parental rights can be terminated.

Unfit parent:

If you have cause to show that the other birth parent is unfit, most state courts will conduct a fitness hearing. At this hearing, the court will deem the other birth parent unfit if they are abusive, neglectful, fail to visit, have a mental disturbance, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or are incarcerated.

Presumed birth father is not really the father:

Showing that the other parent is not legally the father can also terminate that father's parental rights. In all states, when a child is born to a married couple, the husband is the presumed father. If a man marries a woman after the birth of the child and the man is named as the father on the birth certificate, that man is the presumed father.

If you can show that the purported other parent is not the presumed father, you don't need to show unfitness or abandonment and would not need consent for a stepparent adoption. However, if the other parent does meet one of the requirements of your state's "presumed father" definition, then the father's consent will still be required.