KNOWLEDGEABLE FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY ASSISTING RESIDENTS OF ATLANTA
Adopting a step-child is a momentous decision, and it is a deeply meaningful way to show your commitment to and love for your spouse and his or her children. The process can be complicated, which means that discussing your situation with family law lawyer can be critical. Rowsey & Stelter has guided individuals in Atlanta and the surrounding area through this process. We can help you understand the advantages and potential risks of this decision while explaining the steps that you need to follow if you pursue it.
ADVANTAGES OF ADOPTION
Unlike step-parenting or foster-parenting, when you adopt a step-child, that child legally becomes your child just as if he or she were your biological offspring. That means that you fully assume financial and legal responsibility for your spouse’s children, and the parent-child relationship is established even if you subsequently divorce your spouse or your spouse pre-deceases you. The child will also have the right to inherit from you or even from your family members under applicable law.
Step-parents often become deeply involved in their step-children’s lives, not only because of the marital relationship with one of the children’s biological parents, but often through the love and nurturing that takes place when living together as a family. While some step-parents may feel that there is consequently no need to go through the formal step of adoption, there are reasons why it may be desirable.
Even if there are currently no problems with a non-custodial biological parent, problems can arise later, such as if that parent later insists on or sues for parental rights. Adoption also can provide step-children with much-needed emotional and psychological security, particularly if there is a strained relationship with the biological parents or between those parents. Perhaps most critically, unless a legal right is established, the child can be taken away if the biological-parent spouse dies or is incapacitated, no matter how close the step-parent may be to the child and no matter how much support that step-parent has provided.
THE LEGAL PROCESS FOR STEP-PARENTS TO FOLLOW
In order to adopt a step-child, the first step is to obtain the consent of the child’s parents to the adoption. Unless a non-custodial parent is found by a court to be unfit, Georgia may not allow the adoption to proceed without his or her consent. If the step-child is 14 years old or older, he or she must also consent to the adoption.
The second step is that the non-custodial parent’s parental rights and responsibilities must be terminated, and this includes the responsibility of providing child support. (When a biological parent is deemed unfit, the court will terminate the parental relationship.) The severing of parental rights is a sensitive issue. It not only severs the tie of the child to the biological parent, but to the biological parent’s relatives, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. Consequently, it is important to consider these relationships because, even if the non-custodial parent is not close to the child, other relatives may be. However, in many cases, adoptive parents can work out a solution so that these personal ties can be maintained.
After the biological parent’s rights have been terminated, the step-parent may petition for adoption. Georgia courts have simplified proceedings for step-parent adoptions, which may or may not include a home study. When the child already resides with the step-parent, courts are generally disposed to grant a step-parent adoption, particularly when the step-parent already plays a significant role in the child’s life and provides for his or her financial and emotional well-being. The standard applied by the court is what is in the “best interests of the child.”
CONSULT AN ATLANTA LAWYER WHEN PURSUING AN ADOPTION
An experienced legal professional can help you and your family with a step-parent adoption. Your attorney can advise you on all of the legal requirements and standards, as well as help you with the legal formalities as you progress through the steps, including a home-study evaluation. This advice also may be useful in considering all the issues related to adoption that may have positive and negative aspects for you, your family, and the child involved. It can be especially critical if you anticipate difficulties, such as a non-consenting parent. Our attorneys are skilled in advising Atlanta residents on adoption as well as child support and custody, property division, and the full range of family law matters. We have represented individuals in Roswell, Milton, Alpharetta, and other areas in DeKalb, Cobb, and Fulton Counties. You can reach us for assistance at (770) 993-5317 or use our online form to set up a free consultation.