Family Law

Family Law: Adoption FAQ

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Answers to some basic questions about adoption.

Q: Can My Spouse Adopt My Child From a Previous Relationship?

Stepparent adoptions are common and relatively easy to accomplish. Your state’s laws will affect the process of adopting a stepchild. However, nearly every state requires some factors to be present before a court will allow a stepparent adoption.

Specifically, because a stepparent adoption terminates a birth parent’s rights, the child’s other birth parent must be deceased or have lost parental rights. In some situations, a birth parent will consent to a stepparent adoption when the child’s other parent has remarried. This means the birth parent consents to a termination of all rights and obligations, like the right to make decisions regarding the child's life and the obligation to pay child support. Because terminations of parental rights are taken very seriously, a court will usually require a parent to consent to an adoption in person or before an officer of the court.

When a birth parent won't consent, the child’s other parent can seek a termination of rights if the parent has neglected, abused, or abandoned the child or is otherwise unfit. The parent seeking the termination must prove that terminating the other parent’s rights serves the child’s best interests. If the termination is granted, a stepparent adoption may be allowed on the same grounds, as long as it serves the child’s best interests.

Q: Will I Lose My Visitation Rights If My Grandchild Is Adopted?

Every state recognizes some form of grandparent visitation rights if certain criteria are met. Yet, when a child is adopted, the adoption severs all legal ties between the child and biological family members—grandparents included. Whether a grandparent can continue visits with a child will depend on the laws of your state and whether the adoption was by a family member or stepparent.

For example, certain states allow a grandparent to continue visits following a child’s adoption if a visitation order is already in place and the adoption was by a close family member or stepparent. However, other states prevent visitation following a stepparent adoption unless a grandparent can show that visitation is necessary to prevent harm to the child. Consult a local family law attorney if you have questions about grandparent visitation in your state.

Q: What Happens to Child Support If My Child Is Adopted?

Adoption typically severs all legal ties between the child and biological parents. When a parent loses parental rights (whether through a termination or adoption), the parent no longer has to financially support the child. For example, a mother can’t collect ongoing child support from the child’s father if the child has been adopted by a stepparent.

However, adoption doesn’t discharge a parent’s past due child support obligation. Specifically, a parent must still pay any overdue child support that has accrued prior to a child’s adoption. Those obligations don’t go away until they are paid in full.

Q: Will My Child Be Able to See Her Adoption Records?

Adoption laws vary by state. Certain states allow an adopted child to see his or her biological parents’ information if the biological parents have consented and registered with a central adoption registry. Other states allow biological parents to permanently seal a child’s adoption records. In any case, most states require a child to be a certain age before allowing them to view adoption records. For most states, the required age is 18.

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