Adopting Your Spouse’s Biological ChildBy Moskowitz Law Group, LLC |
Being a stepparent can be tricky, but having a new child in your life to love and care for can be a very gratifying experience. You may feel a strong bond with your stepchild, but in New Jersey, you do not automatically have a legal relationship with them as a stepparent. Adopting your stepchild as your own is one of the best ways to secure your right to continue to raise your stepchild and obtain legally recognized parental rights.
What Are the Laws Surrounding Stepparent Adoption in NJ?
Establishing a legal parent-child relationship is a complex family law matter. After the adoption, you agree to provide financial support for the child as well as gain the right to make decisions with your spouse about their health, upbringing, and education.
A stepparent seeking parental rights must meet certain requirements. First, the stepparent must be at least 18 years old and 10 years older than the child they want to adopt. In limited circumstances, the Court can waive the requirement that the stepparent be at least 10 years older than the child. The stepparent must be deemed suitable to adopt by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and is usually required to participate in a home study to ensure that the stepparent will provide a suitable living environment for the child.
Importantly, both of the child’s birth parents must give their consent to the adoption. Specifically, the other biological parent must voluntarily terminate their parental rights to free the child up for adoption. This can be difficult to convince the other biological parent to do. Certain unresponsible biological parents will willingly terminate their parental rights because they do not want to be involved in their child’s life or financially support them. Other biological parents may not be willing to do so. If they do not, then the stepparent cannot legally adopt the child. The only other situations in which a child may be freed up for adoption is if the State of New Jersey involuntarily terminates the other biological parent’s parental rights in an abuse and neglect proceeding because they abused or neglected the child, or, if the child is 18 or older. Crucially, a private person does not have the standing to involuntarily terminate a parent’s parental rights. Only the State of New Jersey can file a proceeding to do so. If the child is over 18, however, they can sign and consent for themselves, and the other biological parent’s consent is not required. An attorney can explain these laws and ensure you meet all the requirements to get started on the stepchild adoption process.
As a Stepparent, When Can I Adopt?
When a stepparent becomes a parental figure in the child’s life and actively takes care of them, they can ask for consent from the child’s birth parents to pursue adoption as described above. New Jersey law also dictates that once the child is adopted, the stepparent has agreed to act as a legal parent for the rest of the child’s life. This should be an important consideration when deciding the best time to adopt.
Start the Adoption Process by Calling a Family Law Attorney
One of the very first things you should do before attempting to initiate the adoption process is to speak with a family law attorney with experience in stepparent adoptions. While it is possible to navigate this process on your own, legal counsel is a tool that will make this transition tremendously easier for all parties, including the child.
Moskowitz Law Group is a team of dedicated attorneys with extensive background handling family law matters, and we’re ready to help you adopt your stepchild. Schedule a consultation by calling our office or submitting an online contact form.