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Overview of the Step-parent Adoption Process

More than half of families in the United States are remarriages or re-couples. According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, about 1,300 new step-families form every day. Since about half of marriages end in divorce, it is not surprising that many children reside in step-family homes. Many times, step-parents want to adopt their stepchildren to make the family a cohesive unit. This decision is often a good one, especially when the biological parent is not part of the child’s life.   There are some critical steps that you must take in order to adopt a step-child. It is helpful to seek assistance from an experienced adoption attorney to guide the process and make it easier and less stressful for everyone.

Termination of Parental Rights

A child is born with two biological parents who have rights and responsibilities. In order to adopt a step-child, the other biological parent’s rights must officially end. In the best-case scenario, the other parent will agree to the adoption and relinquish his or her rights by signing a legal document. Many times, however, the parent does not wish to give up the child, and therefore the process can get more challenging. Another challenge can occur when the stepparent is unable to locate the biological parent. While you can overcome these difficulties, it can make it more a complicated and lengthy legal process. A skilled adoption attorney understands these issues and will handle them on your behalf.

Submit a Petition to Adopt

Once a child is legally able to be adopted, the step-parent submits an adoption petition. The petition requests a court hearing to decide whether the stepparent will be allowed to legally adopt the child. When a step-parent adopts a child he or she takes over all of the same responsibilities of a biological parent. He or she will be responsible for the care of the child and must provide for the minor until he or she reaches majority. The decision to adopt a child should not be taken lightly because it will impact the child and the entire family for a lifetime.

Step-Parent Screening

When an adult wishes to adopt a child, he or she must go through a screening process. The screening procedure reviews the potential adoptive parent’s ​background, fitness to raise a child, ability to support a child financially, and an evaluation of the home. Step-parent screenings are usually less intensive than other types of adoptions, particularly if the child already resides in the household with the step-parent. An attorney will help you prepare for the screening so you will not be surprised by the process.


When a step-parent meets the requirements and passes the screening, a judge will determine the final outcome of the case. The judge will always make a decision that is in the best interest of the child and not the parents. Just because you submit an application or are living with the child does not guarantee that you will be able to legally adopt the step-child. The judge will review all of the details of the case before making the adoption final. Once the adoption is final, the step-parent is now the legal parent of the child and the child can take the last name of the adoptive parent.

A step-parent adoption is usually a joyful occurrence that the entire family will celebrate. When you are considering adopting a step-child, do not go it alone. Contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd., online or call us at (608) 784-8310 for an initial consultation.

Published September 11, 2020
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