Written by attorney Anneshia Miller Grant

The Basics of Stepparent Adoptions in Virginia

Even after a judge has entered a final divorce decree, questions often still remain about how the ex-spouses, and their children, will move forward as a family unit. Lingering questions about parenting rights may further intensify when a new stepfather or stepmother is introduced into the picture. After a long-term stepparent relationship with a child has been established, a stepparent may wish to strengthen his or her legal relationship with the child, a process that must be done through the stepparent adoption process. In Virginia, certain laws govern stepparent adoptions. It is important for Virginia stepparents to know the basics of these laws, in the case that they wish to adopt a stepchild.

What is a Stepparent Adoption?

The National Center for Adoption Law and Policy’s Adoption and Child Welfare Lawsite defines a stepparent adoption as the legalization between the stepmother or stepfather and the child of his or her spouse. After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive stepparent will assume financial and legal responsibility of his or her spouse’s child. Consequently, the non-custodial parent is completely released from parenting responsibilities and legal rights to the child. The severing of the legal relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent extends to the non-custodial parent’s family members as well. Therefore, the non-custodial parent’s family members will have no legal relationship with the child after a stepparent adoption.

When Should a Stepparent Adopt a Stepchild?

Even though a child may live in a stepparent’s home, treat the stepparent as his or her own biological parent, and love the stepparent, it is important for stepparents to understand that until an adoption has been finalized, a stepparent has no legal rights to the child in the case that a custody issue arises. Therefore, the first reason that many stepparents wish to adopt their spouse’s child or children is to gain legal right to the child or children. When a stepparent thinks he or she is ready to move forward in his or her legal and financial responsibilities, it is likely time for a stepparent adoption. In other cases, a stepparent may want to adopt a stepchild when the stepchild’s non-custodial biological parent is considered unfit to care for the child, has abandoned the child, or has consented to the adoption.

How does a Stepparent Adopt a Stepchild?

Under Code of Virginia § 63.2-1241, a stepparent may file a petition in the circuit court of the county where the birth parent and his or her spouse reside, or in the county or city where the child resides. The petition is a joint petition filed by the stepparent and his or her spouse, for the purposes of the spouse’s consent.

There are certain circumstances under which a Virginia court may order the adoption without referring the case to a local director for further review. Those cases include: (1) if the other biological (or adopted) parent is dead; (2) if the other biological (or adopted) parent consents to the adoption; (3) the acknowledged father denies paternity of the child; (4) the birth mother swears under oath that she does not know the identity of the biological father; (5) the child is the result of a surrogate pregnancy and the biological parent gives consent; (6) the biological parent joining in the adoption was not married at the time the child was adopted; and (7) the child is 14-years-old or older and has lived with the stepparent for at least five years.

If the biological parent does not consent to the adoption, then the court must determine whether to order the adoption based on the best interest of the child.

There are many other laws regarding stepparent adoptions in Virginia. It is a complex area of law, and skill and experienced are required to navigate the stepparent adoption process successfully. If you are seeking to adopt a stepchild, you should seek out the assistance of an experienced attorney. Contact Garrett Law Group, PLC, today for a confidential consultation.

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