As a result of the increasing number of divorces and blended families in Ohio, stepparent adoptions have been increasing. A stepparent adoption is an adoption whereby the stepmother or stepfather adopts their spouse’s child, which, in turn, creates a legal parent/child relationship. These types of adoptions can be a fairly simple process depending on the individuals involved in the process.
A stepparent adoption creates a legal relationship between the stepparent and the child as if the child were born to the stepparent. In addition, the legal relationship between the child and his or her other biological parent is terminated. Once approved by the court, this type of adoption is permanent. In the event of a divorce between the adopting stepparent and the child’s biological parent, the stepparent will be responsible for child support if the child is a minor, and will have custody and/or visitation rights. In addition, if the stepparent is the father, then the child’s name is usually changed to the father’s last name. Finally, upon the death of the stepparent, the child is eligible to inherit from the stepparent’s estate as if the child was the biological child of that stepparent.
These types of adoptions usually occur in the Court of Common Pleas in the county where either the child resides, the stepparent resides, or where the natural parent resides. In order to start this process, the stepparent must file a petition in the with the Court. This petition requires the stepparent to list a number of specific pieces of information regarding the identity and circumstances of the stepparent, natural parent, and child to be adopted. After the petition is filed, the petition must be served upon the child’s other natural parent. Generally, both natural parents must consent to this adoption before the adoption can occur. However, if the other biological parent has either failed, without justification, to communicate with the child or financially support the child for a period of one year before the filing of the petition, that parent’s consent is not required, and the adoption can proceed without that consent.
After the petition is filed, the Court will appoint an assessor, who will visit the home where the child will be living. The assessor will then report to the Court his or her opinion about the suitability of the home for the child. After this assessment is completed, the Court will hold a hearing on the petition for adoption where evidence will be presented by the stepparent and the natural parents. In many cases, the child to be adopted is present as well. Assuming that the court determines that all of the factors mentioned above have been satisfied and that the adoption is in the best interest of the child, the Court will issue an entry whereby the stepparent will be treated as the legal parent of the adopted child. At that point, the child’s birth certificate will be sent to the Ohio Division of Vital Statistics, and a new birth certificate will be issued naming the stepparent as the biological parent on the child’s birth certificate.
Both birth parents and stepparents need to know their rights and responsibilities both before and after the adoption before they decide to consent to a stepparent adoption. This stepparent adoption process, in almost all cases, ends up being a happy situation for everyone. If you have a situation where a stepparent is interested in learning more about a stepparent adoption, please contact a local attorney, who can answer any questions you may have and assist you with this process.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.
James F. Contini II, Esq.
Certified Specialist in Estate Planning,
Trust & Probate Law by the OSBA
Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., LPA
158 North Broadway
New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663