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Becoming a stepparent can be both challenging and rewarding.  Sometimes, you are learning to co-parent with two other active parents. Other times, you are filling a void left by an absent or inconsistent parent.  In those instances where you are performing duties a biological parent has failed to, you may be considering adopting your stepchild.

Adopting your spouse’s child is not just an honorary title. It means taking on the legal, financial and everyday responsibilities involved in child rearing. Because this is a serious and permanent undertaking, the process requires adherence to various statutes and at least one hearing before the court.

Obtaining consent

Obtaining consent from the biological parent whose rights you wish to terminate is often the most difficult part of stepparent adoption. If the biological parent is not involved in the child’s life, he or she may have no qualms about relinquishing parental rights, especially if it relieves them of a court-ordered child support obligation. However, in many cases, the biological parent is reluctant to let go of those rights.

Where a biological parent will not consent to the termination of their parental rights, you must involuntarily terminate their rights before you may adopt your stepchild. Pennsylvania family courts require the petitioning parent and proposed adoptive parent to establish grounds for termination during a hearing before they are willing to remove a biological parent from a child’s life.  This may be evidenced through a prolonged lack of contact or a failure to perform parental duties, among other things.

The adoption process

Once the court terminates a biological parent’s rights, they are free to rule on the stepparent’s adoption petition. There are a number of forms and documents that must accompany the adoption petition, and an attorney well versed in adoptions can be of great assistance.  After submitting all required legal pleadings and forms, you can expect the following to happen:

  • Your attorney will request and obtain a hearing before the court.
  • Your attorney will prepare you by explaining every step of the process and all required proceedings.
  • Your attorney will help you prepare for your testimony about the adoption and termination petitions.   

Where a parent consents to the termination of their parental rights, the court may hear both the adoption and termination of parental rights petitions in the same hearing.  However, where the termination of parental rights is done on an involuntary basis, you will have two hearings. 

After both your termination and adoption petitions have been granted, you will receive a certificate of adoption. You may use this document to amend your adopted child’s birth certificate to include your name. 

If you are interested in adopting your stepchild, speak to a Pennsylvania adoption attorney to ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.