California Stepparent Adoption (Family Code Sections 9000-9007)
For over 30 years, the family law attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have used their expertise to successfully represent stepparents in adopting the child of their spouse or domestic partner. Using our extensive knowledge of the law and years of experience, our clients enjoy the peace of mind and comfort from having a dedicated and compassionate Wallin & Klarich stepparent adoption attorney by their side.
At Wallin & Klarich, we understand that taking the first step to adopt your stepchild can be an overwhelming and confusing process to navigate without an experienced family law attorney. The law is complex and there are many qualifications in order to successfully adopt your stepson or stepdaughter. However, having a Wallin & Klarich stepparent adoption attorney can ease your troubles and adopting your stepchild can be a very rewarding experience that can create a closer personal bond between you and your stepchild.
If you are a stepparent who is seeking to adopt your stepchild, we encourage you to give us a call today at (888) 749-7428 or fill out our contact form. The call is free but more than that we want to hear from you and offer the many possibilities that we can do to help you realize your wish. If you are uncertain about moving forward as of yet, read below for further understanding about the stepparent adoption process.
What Is Stepparent Adoption?
Under California Family Code Section 9000, a stepparent desiring to adopt a child of the stepparent’s spouse or domestic partner may file a petition with the family law court to establish themselves as a legal parent of their stepchild. When you file a petition for stepparent adoption, you are asking the court for permission to become legally responsible for your stepchild. This means that upon successful adoption, your stepchild becomes your legal child, and you will be responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of your stepchild.
In order for the family law court to grant your stepparent adoption request, several procedural events must occur. If both biological parents of your stepchild are alive, obtaining the consent of both parents is crucial. The court will also require that an investigation be performed, in order to ensure that you are fit to be the child’s legal parent.
It is important to note that under California Family Code Section 3020, the family law court wants to ensure that the child has “frequent and continuing contact” with both biological parents. If the other biological parent of your stepchild opposes the adoption and wants to continue to remain the legal parent of their child, it can be very difficult for you to obtain a stepparent adoption. Thus, having an experienced stepparent adoption attorney is very important if you are serious about pursuing this legal matter.
Who Qualifies as a Stepparent?
Under California Family Code Section 8548, a stepparent adoption is defined as, “an adoption of a child by a stepparent, where one birth parent retains custody and control of the child.” In order to be eligible for a stepparent adoption, you must be either married to or a registered domestic partner of one of the birth parents of your stepchild. If you are not legally married to or a registered domestic partner of a biological parent of your stepchild, you do not have standing to request a stepparent adoption and therefore will not be able to pursue a stepparent adoption.
While the general provision that allows stepparent adoption is provided in California Family Code Section 9000, the family law court also looks to other laws when deciding whether to grant a stepparent adoption. The process becomes much more complex after the initial requirements of Section 9000 have been met.
How Is the Child’s Best Interest Evaluated?
In every step of the stepparent adoption process, the judge will evaluate whether granting the stepparent adoption is in the best interests of your stepchild. In making any ruling that will have a direct effect on custodial arrangements or the legal status of parents, the court will use California Family Code Section 3011, to evaluate whether granting a request is in the best interests of the child. Several factors listed under California Family Code Section 3011 include:
1) The age, health, safety, and welfare of your stepchild;
2) Any history of domestic violence by you or either of the biological parents of your stepchild;
3) The duration and adequacy of your stepchild’s living arrangements;
4) The biological parents’ ability to care for your stepchild;
5) The amount of time that your stepchild has spent with you, as well as both biological parents; AND
6) The emotional relationship between you and your stepchild, as well as both biological parents and their child.
It is important to note that the process for obtaining a stepparent adoption is more complex than just evaluating what is in the best interests of your stepchild. This standard is merely a guideline that the court will use when evaluating each aspect of your stepparent adoption case.
The Stepparent Adoption Process
In order to obtain a stepparent adoption in California, a petition must first be filed with the family law court, indicating that you would like to adopt your stepchild. A date will be assigned to appear in court after the petition is submitted.
After filing your petition with the court, the process can become very complex. Your petition will have to be served on the other birth parent of your stepchild with whom you are not legally married or a registered domestic partner, giving them notice that you are seeking to terminate their parental rights. Your case will become increasingly more complicated if the other biological parent does not consent to the termination of their parental rights.
Keep in mind that there are different procedures and forms for the various types of adoption. Thus, it can be very confusing when trying to determine which forms you need and how to fill them out appropriately. You should not attempt to fill out these forms or proceed in the stepparent adoption process without the experience of a skilled stepparent adoption attorney. A skilled family law attorney could make the difference in you being granted or denied a stepparent adoption.
Obtaining Parental Consent
After serving the petition for stepparent adoption on the other biological parent of your stepchild, you must obtain their consent to the adoption. This can be a very sensitive stage of the process, as you are asking a biological parent to give up their parental rights to their child. It may be a good idea to evaluate whether the other biological parent is willing to give up their parental rights before filing your petition, as this stage will determine how difficult your stepparent adoption case will be.
If you can obtain consent to the stepparent adoption, then you will be able to proceed to the next stage of the process. If the other biological parent is unwilling to give consent to the stepparent adoption, then you will have to ask the court to terminate that parent’s parental rights.
Terminating Parental Rights of the Other Biological Parent
In order to terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent, the court must be convinced that the stepparent adoption is in the best interests of your stepchild, as well as given a sufficient justification as to why the other biological parent should no longer have parental rights. Justifications for terminating parental rights can include:
1) The other biological parent has not exercised their parental rights for a significant period of time, such as exercising visitation rights or providing support;
2) Under California Family Code Section 7822, the other biological parent has abandoned your stepchild. A person has abandoned a child for purposes of stepparent adoption when:
a. The other biological parent has left your stepchild with your spouse or domestic partner for over a year, without any communication with the child; OR
b. The other biological parent left your stepchild with another person for over a six-month period, without any communication with the child.
3) The other biological parent is unfit to be the legal parent of your stepchild. The court will use the best interest standard to evaluate whether you should be the legal parent over the other biological parent.
The process for terminating the parental rights of a biological parent is very difficult. If the other biological parent of your stepchild will not consent to the stepparent adoption, you will be forced to convince the court to terminate their parental rights if you wish to proceed. Without the help of an experienced stepparent adoption attorney, your petition could be denied.
Your Stepchild’s Age Could Be a Factor
After you obtain consent to terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent, you still may have to obtain your child’s consent in order to obtain stepparent adoption. In California, if your stepchild is twelve (12) years old or older, the child must consent to the stepparent adoption. Children under the age of twelve (12) do not have to consent to the adoption; however, the court will still take your stepchild’s age into account when evaluating whether the adoption is in the child’s best interest.
In order to ensure that your stepparent adoption case proceeds efficiently, it is very important that you speak with your stepchild about the stepparent adoption process and the meaning of adoption. You do not want to go through the stepparent visitation process only to be stopped at the end of the process because your stepchild will not consent to the stepparent adoption. Consulting with an experienced stepparent adoption attorney will ensure that you know the process, so that you can communicate with your stepchild and convince him or her that a stepparent adoption is in their best interest.
Interview and Investigation
The last stage before your final court hearing will be to have an interview and investigation by a court appointed investigator. Investigations are usually conducted by a social worker, court investigator, or a licensed family therapist. The investigator will interview you, your spouse or domestic partner, and your stepchild to evaluate whether the stepparent adoption will be in the best interests of the child. The investigator will then write a report and send it to the court. You will also receive a copy of this report so that you know the recommendations that the investigator is making to the court. The court will use this report to determine whether the stepparent adoption should be granted.
The interview and investigation stage of the process is crucial to your success. A skilled stepparent adoption attorney will be able to help you prepare for the interview and investigation so that you obtain the best possible report for your court hearing.
Stepparent Adoption Attorney
There are many complex issues to consider when making a request for a stepparent adoption. Thus, if you would like to adopt your stepchild, it is essential that you have an experienced Orange County stepparent adoption attorney guide you through every step of the process. The skilled stepparent adoption lawyers at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience handling family law issues, including successfully helping clients adopt their stepchildren. With our knowledge and experience, you can rely on our promise that we will fight hard to achieve the best outcome in your case.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Victorville, West Covina, Sherman Oaks, Torrance and Ventura, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney available wherever you happen to live. Call us today at (888) 749-7428. We will get through this together.