Stepparent Adoption: Terminating The Other Parent's Rights

The process required for a step-parent adoption can be easier than the process for traditional adoptions, providing the child's other birth or legal parent agrees to the adoption. In some cases, the state will waive the home study, waiting period, and sometimes the adoption hearing. But if the noncustodial parent refuses to consent to the adoption, the court won't allow the adoption to proceed unless you bring a lawsuit to terminate that parent's rights.

Terminating Parental Rights

Terminating parental rights means the other parent loses all parental rights including the right to visit the child or make decisions relating to education, religion, medical treatment, or where the child lives.

Reasons for terminating a parent's legal rights include:

  • Abandonment (has had no contact with the child for a length of time specified by state law)

  • Failure to contribute to the child's financial support

  • Being proved unfit as a parent

The grounds for being an unfit parent are governed by state laws which can vary. But the law generally considers a parent unfit who has abused, neglected, or failed to protect and properly care for a child over a continuous period of time. In some states, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, incarceration, or mental illness may be grounds for regarding a parent unfit.

Presumed Fatherhood

In the case of a male noncustodial parent, the court may terminate the man's parental rights if you can show that in the eyes of the law he is not the presumed father of the child. But if you were married to the man at the time you gave birth, he is automatically presumed to be your child's father. Presumed fatherhood also may have been established if you married the man shortly after your child was born and named your partner as the father on your child's birth certificate. Even if he currently is not present in your child's life, you must file a court petition to terminate his parental rights to move forward with a stepparent adoption.

Since the definition of presumed fatherhood varies in some states, a man may be the presumed father if he:

  • Acknowledges paternity of the child in writing

  • Has resided with the child and publicly proclaims that child as his biological offspring

  • Pays court-ordered or voluntary child support

Putative Fatherhood

Some states also allow a man who is not married to you at the time your child is born to claim putative fatherhood. Although a putative status means the court has not legally established the man as the child's father, since he claims to be the biological father, the law allows for him to be contacted if the child is being adopted or there is an attempt to terminate his parental rights. Even if the putative father has been absent from your child's life, most states require that an attempt be made to serve him with a summons notifying him of the adoption proceedings. If his location is unknown, some state laws allow for a legal notice to be published in a newspaper in the area where the man was last known to reside.

For more information, contact a professional like those at Grenadier, Starace, Duffett & Keisler, PC.