Important Reasons to Petition for Step-Parent Adoption

Patricia TichenorLegal

blended family considering stepparent adoption

In blended families, it can be hard for children to feel as though their relationship with a step-parent is formalized, even once they’re married into the family. However, by petitioning for step-parent adoption, step-parents can create a greater sense of belonging for their stepchildren by formally and legally becoming responsible for them.

Here are a few reasons why you should petition for step-parent adoption, as well as some challenges you can expect to face.

Why petition for step-parent adoption?

1. Security, love, and a stronger familial bond

When a biological parent is not involved in a child’s life, the child can be left feeling unsupported or like there is a lack of security in their life. However, through a petition for step-parent adoption, a step-parent can assume the role of parent and promote a sense of normalcy in the child’s life. Adoption can strengthen the bond between step-parents and stepchildren, granting the entire family peace of mind.

2. Legal parental rights

When a step-parent petitions for adoption, they gain more concrete, legal parental rights to make decisions — such as those regarding medical care, religion, and schooling — for a child. However, adoptive stepparents also gain the responsibility of paying for child support, education, and medical insurance.

3. Direct inheritance benefits

If a step-parent passes away without a valid Will, their adopted step-child would be viewed on the same legal footing as any natural child the step-parent may have, from an inheritance perspective. Conversely, if the biological parent was to pass away, adoptive step-parents have the legal rights and custody of the child so they can remain at home and avoid any additional disruption to their life.

Challenges of step-parent adoption

A petition for step-parent adoption can pose some challenges for families — especially when everybody isn’t on the same page. When a step-parent adopts a child, the biological parent loses all responsibility for raising them. They are no longer required to pay child support, and they lose any decision-making power, along with visitation and parental rights.

Understandably, this can be an upsetting proposition for the other biological parent and they may choose to contest the petition. Therefore, to avoid causing distress to the entire family, it’s best to only petition for stepparent adoption when you are reasonably certain your child’s other biological parent will agree to it.

How to petition for step-parent adoption

There are many situations in which a stepparent adoption may occur — such as when a natural parent is no longer a part of the child’s life, or in an LGBTQ+ household where one spouse is the biological parent of a child born through assisted reproduction. While requirements will vary by state, a step-parent looking to adopt their stepchild will need to first get the consent of their spouse, the child’s noncustodial parent, and, sometimes, the child.

Before you petition for stepparent adoption, it’s wise to review the laws, qualifications, and requirements in the Commonwealth of Virginia. During this research stage, it may also be helpful to obtain legal advice from a professional, such as My Legal Case Coach.  You can also discuss how to use the adoption process to see a name change for the child if desired.

Next, you’ll need to submit an adoption petition to the appropriate Circuit Court. You’ll then need to file all the required legal forms, which may ask to confirm the child’s identity and require proof of marriage.

Once forms are filed, assuming the adoption is uncontested, there will be no need to appear for any court hearings.  All the filed paperwork will be reviewed privately by a judge in Judges’ Chambers.  Once the judge signs the Final Order of Adoption, the Court will mail one or more certified copies to you.

After it’s finalized, parents should request a new birth certificate for the child to change their name (if desired) and formally list the step-parent as their legal parent.  If the child was born outside of Virginia, you will need to mail a certified copy of the entered Final Order of Adoption to the State where your child was born to request a new birth certificate to be issued by their Department of Vital Records.

Get help with your DIY Virginia family law case

If you’re a step-parent looking to take the next step to formalize your family unit through a step-parent adoption, My Legal Case Coach can help. Book a free 15-minute consultation and see how our step-parent adoption case form packet can help you create a sense of security for your family.