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.
How to Adopt a Child in Pennsylvania
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.
But what if the biological parent won’t agree?
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:
- Getting the okay from the other biological parent to adopt. Again, you won’t need their consent if their legal rights have been terminated.
- If they refuse consent, you’ll need to go to court to show why the biological parent’s rights need to be terminated, either due to abandonment or neglect.
- Bring the court all of your documentation. You’ll need to show your relationship with your spouse and their child, your living situation and your financial status.
- In Pennsylvania, you’ll need the consent of the child to be adopted if they are over 12.
- File a petition with the court. If both biological parents agree with your request to adopt, they’ll also sign the petition.
- Attend any hearings as needed.
Should I have an attorney?
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.