Adopting a stepchild
By Capt. Raj Mathew, 42nd Air Base Wing chief of general law
/ Published March 28, 2014
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Adoption is the process by which two individuals create a parent-child relationship recognized by law. A stepparent adoption is a legal process where the stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child. This relationship becomes permanent and cannot be reversed by a subsequent separation or divorce from the biological parent. Once the stepparent adoption is finalized, the spouse becomes the child's legal parent. The stepparent adoption process is regulated by the state and, as such, the process and requirements vary by state.
Adopters must first be prepared to take over the legal and financial responsibilities for the child from the birth parent. Then, in order to adopt a child, the biological parent must first have his or her parental rights to the child ended. Normally, this requires the approval of the parent being replaced, and many states will not allow a stepparent adoption if a biological parent objects. However, for reason of desertion, lack of fitness and other reasons, an involuntary termination of their rights can take place.
The rights of birth parents are protected in every U.S. state and territory. One of the most important legal rights has to do with the ending of parental rights. This ending of parental rights, called termination, surrender or relinquishment of parental rights, ends the legal parent-child relationship. These parental rights are ended voluntarily or involuntarily. Once the relationship is terminated, the child is legally adoptable. Due to the seriousness and long-term impact of the decision to permanently end the parental rights of the birth mother and birth father, courts have stringent requirements that must be met prior to making this decision.
The parent whose rights are to be terminated may voluntarily consent to such termination. If consent is not obtained voluntarily, the process becomes more complicated, and it is highly recommended to consult an attorney.
Before the actual stepparent adoption process can occur, the parental rights of the parent who will not voluntarily consent to the adoption need to be terminated by the court. After the court terminates the parental rights, the next step is to begin the actual stepparent adoption process by completing and filing court forms.
In order to complete a stepparent adoption in Alabama, people need to file a petition for adoption with the clerk of the court. They need to provide the court with several documents, including two copies of their marriage license, all divorce decrees of involved parties, and the child's birth certificate. Two copies should be filed in case any additional documents are required.
The clerk's office staff is not able to give legal advice because they are limited to assisting with procedural matters concerning the adoption process only.
For questions, call the 42nd Air Base Wing legal office at 953-2786 and make an appointment to speak with a legal assistance attorneys.