Understanding the stepparent adoption process in California

A stepparent adoption in California is not always cut and dry, but it is worthwhile to ensure the stepparent gains legal responsibility for the child.

Making a parent-child relationship legal is not only an emotional milestone, but it is also a way to help stepparents in California gain full responsibility of the child. Taking this step typically means that a biological parent forfeits his or her legal rights to the child, essentially transferring them to the stepparent.

Though this is a common process, there are some complexities to it. People embarking on this journey often have the following questions to ask:

What is the process?

After securing the proper forms from the probate clerk’s office, stepparents must get consent from the biological parent who is giving up his or her rights to the child. Once that happens and the forms are filed, there will be a Department of Social Services home visit, during which the stepparent and the child may be interviewed. The last step is the hearing, at which the stepparent and child must be present.

According to the Superior Court of California, it is ideal that the stepparent has been married to the child’s biological parent for at least one year.

What if the biological parent does not agree to it?

In some cases, the biological parent willingly gives up the rights to a child. In others, said parent is not yet ready to consent. However, depending on the circumstances, a court could mandate that a biological parent’s rights be terminated if it is found to be in the best interests of the child.

Under California law, parental rights may be involuntarily terminated in the following situations:

  • If the parent has left the child with the other parent for at least one year without any communication or support.
  • If the parent has abandoned the child.
  • If the alleged father has not filed a paternity action to gain legal status as the father.

Terminating rights requires an official investigation and, often, a court hearing.

What if the biological parent cannot be located?

This goes back to the above question, as a parent who cannot be located may be found to have abandoned the child. There will be an investigation into the issue, and the court could rule that the parent has abandoned the child, therefore terminating his or her rights to the child.

Can the biological parent’s family request visitation after rights are terminated?

When a parent’s rights are terminated, so are his or her family’s rights to the child. However, it may still be possible for family members such as grandparents to request visitation. Again, the best interests of the child will weigh heavily into the decision as to whether or not these rights are granted.

A detailed, thorough approach to these cases ensures the transition runs smoothly. Anyone who has questions about this topic should speak with a family law attorney in California.