Many people who get divorced often find love and happiness again in second marriages. A step-family, sometimes called a “blended” or “bonus” family, is a family in which at least one parent has children from a previous marriage or relationship. Blended families can be wonderful, especially when step-parents wish to adopt the children of their spouse as a way of making their family more “complete.” This is referred to as a related adoption, since one of the adoptive parents is related to the child who is being adopted. In fact, this is the most common form of adoption in North America. 

A step-parent who adopts his or her stepchild agrees to become that child’s legal parent and to be fully responsible for the child until the child is an adult. Once the adoption is final, the other biological parent’s name is replaced with the adopting parent’s name on the child’s birth certificate. In some cases, the child’s name may also be changed on the birth certificate.

Usually, a step-parent adoption is easier and takes less time to accomplish than other kinds of adoption. While other adoptions usually involve two new parents, a step-parent adoption basically just “replaces” one parent. In addition, a court will typically expedite the adoption process when one of the parents is deceased, since it is in the best interests of the child to have two parents. In this situation, a step-parent will just need to show the death certificate as proof.

If you obtain the consent of the other birth parent, the adoption should go smoothly, but that is not always the case. Complications can arise for a variety of reasons, such as when a parent does not want to give up the legal rights and responsibilities regarding his or her child.  

Parental Rights

In Illinois, if you want to adopt your spouse’s child, a court has to terminate the other biological parent’s rights. In some situations, biological parents voluntarily relinquish their rights, since that means they are also exempt from certain parental responsibilities, like paying child support. However, if the genetic parent does not consent to the adoption, that parent’s rights can still be terminated by proving that the parent is unfit in court. Lack of parental fitness can be proven in court if one or more of the following is true:

  • The biological parent has deserted or abandoned the child;
  • The biological parent has failed to financially support the child;
  • The biological parent has failed to be actively involved in the child’s life;
  • The biological parent is unfit to provide for the child’s well-being;
  • The biological parent has abused the child (physically or emotionally) or has significantly neglected the child;
  • The person is not the actual biological parent of the child (proven by a court-ordered DNA test).

If the court decides the legal parent is unable to care for the child in a reasonable way, it may terminate his or her parental responsibilities. After a biological parent’s parental rights have been terminated, several additional criteria need to be addressed to finalize the adoption. This typically involves meeting with a social worker, completing a background check (employment and criminal), providing proof of financial security, and more. 

Overall, the adoption process can take several months, and sometimes “red tape” can stall the adoption or even place it in jeopardy. That is why it is important to work with a knowledgeable family law attorney to increase your chances of a successful outcome. 

Contact a Hillside Family Law Attorney 

If you are married and are considering adopting your stepchild, it is important to know your rights in the adoption process. At the Law Office of Vincent C. Machroli, P.C., we can advise you on and handle all of the steps to take to ensure a smooth transition for all family members. Contact our Oak Park adoption lawyer at 708-449-7400 for a free initial consultation.