Child Custody and the “New Normal”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives seemingly overnight. We should not expect it stop short of effecting child custody disputes and possibly send them into a tailspin. ...
You’ve just gotten married. Your new spouse has kids from a previous marriage, but at this point, you think of them as your kids too.
Unfortunately, the law has other ideas, at least when it comes to child custody.
Unless you adopt your new stepson or stepdaughter, you have no
legal rights where they’re concerned. Under the law, it’s only biological parents who have these rights, including the freedom to make medical or legal decisions on the child’s behalf.
And if you and your new spouse divorce, issues like custody and visitation become trickier. You two might work out a visitation schedule and have a custody agreement, but they can alter it at any time without your say-so. But this isn’t an issue in situations where a stepparent legally adopts their stepchildren.
When most people think of adopting a child, they might think of working with an agency, or through the foster system.
But adoption is also the process by which stepparents can become legal parents to gain child custody. It requires the children’s other biological parent to be willing to give up their parental rights. They do this by signing an adoption surrender document before two witnesses and a notary. From there, you’ll need to file a petition for adoption.
In cases where the biological parent won’t agree to the stepparent adopting a stepchild, the other can bring a suit to terminate their rights. Typically, these take the form of “abandonment” lawsuits, in which the plaintiff argues a parent has failed to support the child or stopped communicating with them.
But biological parents can also end biological rights if they show the other person is neglectful or an otherwise unfit parent.
If the other parent has been absent for a long time – say, if their whereabouts have been unclear for more than a year – it’s likely the court will grant the step-parent the right to adopt without the other biological parent’s say-so.
In Bucks County, most people who want to adopt a child will need to go through a background check. The county orphan’s court can tell you more.
If you’re a stepparent wondering how to adopt a child in PA, you can expect the process to work something like this:
No matter if the other biological parent is consenting to the adoption, it’s a good idea to have an adoption attorney on your side.
And if you’d like to learn more about how to adopt a child in Pennsylvania, the child custody lawyers at Penglase & Benson can help.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys look forward to helping you and your family take this important step.