How Can A Stepparent Adopt A Stepchild In Georgia?

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Samuel (Sam) Siemon - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Samuel (Sam) Siemon

Located in Alpharetta, GAThe Siemon Law Firm, P.C.

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Stepparents often spend years acting as a parental figure to the biological child of their spouse. Whatever the circumstances may be that lead a stepparent to consider adoption, they may feel trepidation toward taking the official steps of becoming a legal guardian of their stepchild.

Adoption is rarely a straightforward process. However, when a stepparent wishes to adopt their stepchild, the process can potentially take less time and require fewer steps than other domestic adoptions. To adopt a stepchild, the stepparent’s spouse must be the child’s custodial parent, the stepparent must have lived in Georgia for at least six months, and the child’s other biological parent must terminate their parental rights. A family law attorney can assist from the start to educate on and provide guidance throughout the process to come.

Obtaining The Consent Of The Noncustodial Parent

The most cumbersome part of stepchild adoption includes seeking the consent of the noncustodial biological parent. Many stepchild adoptions occur in situations where the noncustodial parent is virtually absent from the child’s life. Even if the parent has not made regular attempts to contact the child, the stepparent must still obtain the parent’s consent to terminate their biological parental rights in order to proceed with the adoption.

The stepparent may write a letter to the parent requesting a signed agreement stating they will relinquish their parental rights. There are some exceptions to this situation. If the whereabouts of the parent are unknown, the parent has not made contact in years or attempts to contact the parent go unanswered, the stepparent may request for a judge to declare abandonment and proceed with the adoption regardless of the inability to obtain consent.

When the noncustodial parent objects to the adoption, the process can become complicated. In such cases, the stepparent may seek the termination of parental rights by proving that the noncustodial parent:

  • Is an unfit parent. The court may hold a hearing to examine fitness. Examples of an unfit parent can include those who are neglectful, incarcerated, abusive or addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Abandoned their child. Abandonment is proven by showing no attempt to communicate with the child or provide financial support for typically at least one year.
  • Is not the biological parent. Georgia assumes that when a child is born to a married couple, the husband is the father. If this presumption is wrong, consent may not be necessary.

The burden of proof falls to the stepparent to assert any of the above. An attorney can advise whether there is any cause to proceed. If successful in persuading the court, the court will then terminate the noncustodial parent’s rights and continue with the adoption process.

What To Expect At The Court Hearing

After obtaining the noncustodial parent’s consent or receiving permission to move forward without such consent, the stepparent will need to file the correct paperwork with the appropriate Superior Court. This will include the child’s birth certificate, the marriage license and the written and signed consent of the noncustodial parent, if applicable.

The stepparent will then attend a court hearing set by the judge, along with their spouse and stepchild, if the child is over the age of 14. Children over the age of 14 must consent to the adoption by their stepparent. A final hearing will result in paperwork that legally certifies the adoption and awards full rights as the guardian of the child. Parents should not forget to alert any key individuals or institutions of this change and promptly supply them with paperwork, including the child’s school, physician, county office and more.

While stepchild adoptions can be a linear process that consists of obtaining the right permissions and submitting the appropriate paperwork, the process does not always go as planned. Discussing the adoption with an attorney and retaining legal representation can ensure that the adoption will proceed as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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