The most common form of adoption is that of a stepparent adopting their stepchild. It not only serves as a legal way to connect a family, but it also makes the stepparent legally responsible for the child. 

In many cases, this is the best scenario for a family, and the state government is eager to help finalize the adoption. In other cases, it’s much more complicated, such as when the birth parent resists the adoption or if your marriage is on the rocks.

No matter your situation, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. As you go about the process of adopting your stepchild, here are a few things to think about.

1. You’ll want an attorney.

In some states, it’s not necessary to have an attorney file your adoption paperwork, while other states mandate it. In either case, you’ll want an attorney on your side. They know the laws and will strive for an error-free adoption. Since an error in an adoption filing can overturn the adoption later on, you’ll want an expert on your side. 

Additionally, complications might arise that you aren’t equipped to handle. “The adoption process is complex and wrought with potential delays,” explains a Houston law firm, pointing out that some with a vested interest in the child’s welfare might try to prevent the adoption. “When you begin the process to adopt a child, you deserve representation that goes to the nth degree for your best interests and your success.” 

Without this support, you’ll likely struggle with complications and misunderstandings along the way. 

2. Both living birth parents must consent. 

Usually, a living birth parent must provide their consent to the adoption. They will need to have their parental rights terminated in a court of law. However, Child Welfare Information Gateway explains in a factsheet that there may be exceptions to the rule. 

“Some state adoption laws do not require the other parent’s consent in some situations, such as abandonment,” the factsheet states. “However, it is important to do everything the law requires to obtain proper consent. Some states’ laws allow for consent to be revoked, and for an adoption to be challenged or overturned, if these requirements are not met or fraud has occurred.” 

If a birth parent refuses to consent to the adoption, but you believe it’s in the child’s best interest to have the rights terminated, speak with an attorney about your options.  

3. Older children must consent to the adoption.  

Younger children are typically not considered able to make the difficult choice of who will adopt them, but children between the ages of 10 and 14 (depending on the state) must provide their consent to be adopted.  

In order to protect the best interests of the child, a guardian ad litem will be appointed to the child. They will work directly with the child and ensure he/she is placed in the best position. 

4. Adoption may not always be the right choice. 

Before adopting your stepchild, check your motivations. For example, the child might have a good relationship with their birth parent, and it wouldn’t be right to take that parent’s place at this time. 

Additionally, it may not be wise if you’re having marriage problems. “Adoption is a lifetime of commitment and should not be taken lightly… Sometimes people think that adopting a stepchild will strengthen a floundering marriage,” a Massachusetts attorney shares with “On the contrary, an adoption in the midst of a struggling marriage puts further stress on the marriage and does not prioritize the needs of the child.”

An adoption should always serve in the best interest of the child and your family as a whole. If you’re only trying to adopt the child for selfish reasons, such as tax breaks or to fix a relationship, that’s no reason to take over parental rights of the child. This is a permanent decision, and by signing that paperwork, you’re committing to parenting that child forever, not only for the length of your marriage.