Stepparent Adoptions in Georgia: Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to adopt your spouse's child in Georgia, here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers
Do I Need an Attorney to Complete a Stepparent Adoption?Yes, you will need an experienced adoption attorney to handle your adoption. Adoption law is complex and there is no packet of forms with fill-in-the-blanks available to the public. An experienced attorney is one who handles adoptions regularly, so be sure to interview the prospective attorneys and make sure that adoptions are a central part of their practice.
Do We Need to Notify the Child's Biological Father?In all adoptions where there is known biological father, the law requires that he be notified of the adoption, either through certified mail at his last known address, personal service by the sheriff's department, or publication in the county newspaper.
I Was Married to the Child's Father: Does He Need to Agree to the Adoption?When a child is born "in wedlock" (i.e. the biological mother and father were married to each other), the father's status is raised to that of a "legal parent" with rights equal to that of the mother. The smoothest adoptions are those where the ex-husband is agreeable to the adoption and signs legal documents surrendering his rights to the child to the stepparent for the purpose of adoption.
However, some ex-husbands cannot be found, and if that is the case, they can be served with notice of the adoption by publication, and the adoption can be completed without their signed surrenders by showing the court that they have abandoned the child for a period of more than one year.
In the alternative, it may be that the ex-husband's whereabouts are known, but he does not want to cooperate with the adoption process. However, if it can be shown that he has failed to maintain a significant parent-child relationship with the child for the past year -- or he has failed to provide financial support for the past year -- the court can proceed with the adoption without his signed surrenders, and will terminate his rights as part of the adoption.
However, if the ex-husband is an involved parent who pays his child support on time, it is likely that the court will *not* grant the adoption.
I Was Not Married to the Child's Father: Does He Have Any Rights?A biological father has potential rights that he can assert to a child, even if he was never married to the mother and even if his name is not on the child's birth certificate.
Under Georgia law, a biological father who was never married to the mother must still receive legal notice of the adoption process. Once he has received such notice, he has thirty days in which to file a petition to legitimate the child. This normally would require that the biological father hire an attorney and incur legal fees, which he may not want to do, or cannot afford to do. If, after thirty days, the father has not filed the petition to legitimate, the court may terminate his rights and finalize the adoption.
Hence, there is no "veto power" that the father has, and he does not need to give his "permission."
How Much Does It Cost to Complete a Stepparent Adoption?AVVO policies and procedures do not allow attorneys to provide price quotes online. So, in order to get a good sense of the cost, you should contact 2-3 attorneys directly and ask them what costs are involved. The price involved may vary depending on the difficulty level of the case. For example, if you know that the biological father is in total agreement with the adoption and will sign legal surrender documents, then your case will not require that the father be found and served, and the cost will be less.
In obtaining a price quote, find out whether the attorney's fee is a flat fee or an hourly rate. The simpler the case, the more likely that you can get a flat fee for the entire process.
In addition, ask whether there are any additional costs. Most of the time, you can expect to pay the court filing fee (approximately $215). Moreover, in adoptions, it is required that the stepparent be fingerprinted so that the court can obtain his GBI and FBI records, if any, and that fee is approximately $50. In addition, some judges (not all) require the completion of a "court report," which is an evaluation of the stepparent's fitness to be a legal parent. If your case is assigned to such a judge, then the judge will appoint a separate attorney to complete the report and you will pay the legal fee for that other attorney, which is typically between $250-500. And, finally, there is the cost for the new birth certificates at the end of the process, which payment would go to Vital Records.
How Does it Affect the Adoption If I Just Got Married to the Stepparent?Georgia law is silent on the issue of how long the stepparent must be married to the biological parent before starting the adoption process. However, most judges want to see that the marriage is stable and successful, and will not grant an adoption until the couple have been married at least one year. However, if you have been living together for a longer period and there are extenuating circumstances as to why you didn't married previously, the judge may grant the adoption.
Can We Change the Child's Name as Part of the Adoption?Yes, definitely. You can change any part of a child's name as part of the adoption. In general, most parents change the child's last name to one of the parents' last names, or a combination of the two last names, with or without a hyphen.