What Are the Difficulties in a Stepparent Adoption?

What Californians need to know

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on February 17, 2023

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Stepparents can play a very important role in a child’s development and well-being. According to data provided by The Step Family Foundation, more than half of all U.S. families are re-married or re-coupled. Many children live with a stepparent. However, without adoption, these stepparents have very limited legal rights.

Adoption allows stepparents to formalize their relationship with a child. Through California’s adoption process, a stepparent can access full rights by becoming a child’s legal parent. Here is a brief overview of the most important things stepparents need to know about the stepparent adoption process in California.

Stepparent Adoption in California: The Basics

Adoption is one aspect of family law and is the formal process through which a legal relationship is created between a parent and a child. Without adoption, a stepparent will not have full parental rights in California. Even a stepparent who has lived with, and provided financial support for a child for many years lacks full parental rights unless they adopt the child.

Once an adoption is finalized, a stepparent receives full parental rights—and these are no different than those of the child’s biological parents. Stepparent adoption is one of the most common types of adoption in California. The process is the easiest when the stepparent is married to or registered as a domestic partner with the child’s biological parent.

Primary Difficulty: A Challenge from the Non-Spouse Parent

In California, a stepparent generally needs consent to adopt from the child’s biological parent(s). A stepparent rarely has an issue getting consent from their own partner. It is the child’s other birth parent who may be an issue. Of course, consent from the other parent is not necessary if they have passed away or had parental rights terminated.

When consent is obtained, stepparent adoptions are relatively straightforward. You can access an adoption parental consent form from the State of California Health and Human Services Agency. However, when the non-spouse parent refuses to cooperate or challenges the adoption, the process is far more difficult.

Note: If a stepchild is 12 years old or older, they may also have to consent to the adoption under state law. A California family court may allow an older, more mature child to stop an adoption.

A California Adoption Lawyer Can Help

For parents seeking to adopt a stepchild in California, it is imperative that they try to get consent from both of the child’s biological parents. Even if the non-spouse biological parent is reluctant to agree, the best practice is to work with them to try to come to an agreement that works for everyone and is in the best interests of the child.

If the other parent absolutely refuses to give consent to the adoption, a stepparent is not necessarily out of luck. While it is very challenging to finalize a stepparent adoption over a biological parent’s objections, it is not impossible. Some situations may require pursuing involuntary termination of the birth parent’s parental rights. If you have specific questions or concerns about your adoption case or other legal issues, an experienced California adoption attorney or family law attorney can help. Many law firms and law offices may offer a free consultation.

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