How Does Step-Parent Adoption Work?

Patricia TichenorLegal

blended family

If your spouse has children from a previous relationship, you’re likely working together to raise them. You love and care for them as if they were your own, and they may already view you as their mother or father. However, if your stepchild’s other biological parent does not play an active role in their lives, you may wish to file a step-parent adoption case to secure certain legal rights for your family. 

In addition, if your stepchild is age 18 or older, and they wish for you to adopt them, only their consent is needed for you to complete the adoption process, where one of their natural parents might otherwise oppose the adoption.

As in other states, the Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes the parental rights of a child’s biological parents above any other caretaker, unless that child is legally adopted by someone else. By filing to adopt your stepchild, you ensure a few crucial things:

  • The family bond you’ve formed is legally cemented and recognized.
  • You become your stepchild’s legal guardian if something happens to your spouse (during a period of disability or death).
  • You have the right to make emergency decisions regarding your stepchild’s health and well-being.
  • Your stepchild receives the same inheritance and other legal rights as any natural children you may have, including medical coverage as your dependent.

If you are considering adopting your spouse’s child, here is a brief overview of the DIY legal process:

How to file a step-parent adoption case in Virginia involving a minor child

Before you can file an uncontested step-parent adoption case, if the child is still under the age of 18, the child’s living natural parents must consent to the adoption. If your step parent adoption case is contested by the child’s other parent, you should speak with an attorney and discuss what to do.

Assuming you have received parental consent, here is how to file your case:

  1. Draft, sign, and notarize a Petition for Adoption. Typically, you and your spouse will co-petition for the adoption. Your Petition lays out the facts of your step-parent adoption case. This includes the child(ren)’s name, date of birth, and place of residence; their natural parents’ names (and whether they were ever married to each other); proof of your marriage to the child’s mother or father; proof of the other parent’s consent to the adoption; and whether you desire to change the child(ren)’s last name as part of the adoption. Other facts or circumstances about your case may be presented here as needed.
  2. Have the child(ren)’s other natural parent sign and notarize a Natural Parent Affidavit. This Affidavit confirms that the child(ren)’s other parent is aware of the adoption Petition and consents to it.
  3. Draft, sign, and notarize a Final Order of Adoption. This is the document that will be signed and returned to you by the Court. It should restate the same information from your Petition and leave a blank space for a Judge to sign and date.
  4. Complete the Virginia Civil Cover Sheet (Form CC-1416). This form is required to be filed with any civil action in the Commonwealth of Virginia. You may download a PDF copy of this form here.
  5. File the above four documents in-person with your local Circuit Court, along with applicable exhibits. To file your case, you must also provide a copy of your current marriage certificate, the child(ren)’s birth certificate, and your spouse’s Final Order of Divorce from the child’s other natural parent (if applicable). Be prepared to pay a filing fee when you go.
  6. Obtain Form VS-21 from the Court Clerk. Once you receive your signed Final Order of Adoption, you must obtain, complete, and file this form in-person. There is currently a $10 administrative fee when filing Form VS-21. This form will finalize the adoption and allow you to obtain an updated birth certificate for the child(ren).

How to file a step-parent adoption case in Virginia involving an adult child

If your stepchild is 18 years of age or older, you can still legally adopt him or her following a similar process as above. However, there is one additional form that must be completed and filed with the Court: Your stepchild must complete, sign, and notarize a Consent Under Oath by Adult Adoptee confirming that he or she wishes for you to become his or her adoptive parent. As mentioned above, you do not need to obtain consent from the other natural parent (although one natural parent typically does provide consent via an Affidavit in the case of an adult adoption).

Get help with your DIY step-parent adoption case

My Legal Case Coach was designed for Virginia residents who wish to represent themselves in civil court matters such as step parent adoption. If you are beginning the process of filing your case but don’t know which forms you need or how to complete them, take our 30-second quiz to discover which of our step-parent adoption case form packets is best for your circumstances. Once you’ve selected and purchased your packet, schedule your free hour of 1-to-1 coaching with a licensed Virginia attorney to help you along the way.

Have questions? Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation to discuss your case and learn if My Legal Case Coach’s services are right for you.