With the relatively recent ruling on the legality of gay marriages from the U.S. Supreme Court, I have met with a lot of clients looking to adopt their spouse’s child or children. Previously it was very difficult for a gay couple to adopt because they didn’t meet the rather stringent requirement of marriage (particularly in Utah). Now that gay marriage is allowed in all states, couples are able to marry and therefore can qualify for an adoption. However, they still have to meet the criteria.
Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights
This is by far the easiest route to go when it comes to a step-parent adoption. If the biological father or mother is willing to sign a relinquishment of parental rights half the battle is over before we even begin. The nice thing about these voluntary relinquishments is they are “non-retractable”. In other words, once a parent signs a voluntary relinquishment they cannot change their mind later. The Courts do this in order to ensure that a child is not faced with the confusion and instability of a parent coming in and out of the child’s life. Imagine the scenario where a child is adopted and then his or her biological parent shows up and suddenly wants to be part of the child’s life again. Not only can this be difficult for the child to deal with, or even comprehend, but it can undermine the adoptive parent’s role as the father or mother of that child.
The relinquishment is not permanent until the court signs off on it, but the signor himself/herself has no authority or ability to withdraw the relinquishment once it’s signed. I’ve met with several clients that have told me that their spouse told them they would still be involved in the child’s life even after they signed the relinquishment, and then once it was signed they were cut off. Even in that scenario the relinquishment is permanent, and there is no recourse. So make sure you talk to an attorney before you sign a relinquishment of parental rights. It is one of the only legal documents that is set in stone once it’s signed. I’d recommend calling Jared Pearson at Pearson Law Firm, he’s really good.
My Ex Signed the Relinquishment, now what?
Once your ex (the child’s other parent) signs the relinquishment, you can file the Petition for Adoption. Like I previously mentioned, the “step-parent” cannot qualify for the adoption until the two of you are married. In addition, there is a presumption that the adoption should not go through until the parties have been married for at least a year. That presumption can be rebutted but the parties must convince the court that the relationship is strong and stable. Often if the parties can show that they’ve already been in a long, established relationship the court will allow the adoption to go through even if the parties have not been married for a full year. Ultimately it’s the judge’s decision, so it’s always a bit of a crap shoot.
If your ex refuses to relinquish his or her parental rights an adoption becomes significantly more difficult. For good reason, the courts are very hesitant to take away someone’s parental rights. Those rights are not only God-given, but also a constitutional right. In order for a court to revoke someone’s parental rights it would have to essentially find that the parent was so inept or unfit that the child’s health and safety is at risk. Even if a parent is deemed “unfit”, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t exercise visitation of some sort and be part of the child’s life in some way. So if your ex is fighting the adoption you definitely have an uphill battle, but one that can be won in the right circumstances. If you are facing this situation contact Pearson Law Firm for a free consultation with an experienced adoption attorney.
My Ex is MIA or not Communicating
If your ex has abandoned the child or is simply ignoring the adoption paperwork then you can seek a default judgment. Again, courts are hesitant to revoke a parent’s rights by default but if a party can convince the court that the other parent is unreachable and is not interested in the child in any way then the court will grant a default judgment.
Step-parent adoptions are always a pleasure to assist in. There not very many areas of family law that bring parties together, and I always jump at the opportunity. If you are looking to adopt, whether it be uncontested, contested, or by default, Pearson Law Firm can help you through the process. Call today for a free consultation! 801-888-0991.