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A New Family Dynamic: Adopting Your Stepchild

stepparent adoption, children, Illinois family lawyerAccording to recent studies, nearly 40 percent of all marriages are remarriages for at least one of the partners. While, to many, numbers such as these represent a renewed hope in the institution of marriages—which may be an accurate perspective—these estimates also indicate that more and more individuals are bringing more with them into marriage. Children from previous relationships are an increasing part of marriages, and especially impact those marrying for the second or third time. Of course, there is not a single best way to approach a stepchild situation; the dynamics of each family will depend upon a myriad of factors. However, for some stepparents, legally adopting their stepchildren may provide a level of needed security and legal parental responsibility.

Related Adoption

Foster care adoptions, along with domestic and international infant adoptions are certainly important for the well-being of children in need, but represent just part of the adoption story in the United States. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that adopting a stepchild is the most common form of adoption in the country today. Stepparent adoption is a type of related adoption in which a family member of the child looks to become the child’s legal parent. Compared to other forms, related adoptions are generally much simpler and require little-to-no agency involvement in most cases.

Consent of Both Parents

Under Illinois law, “a reputable person of legal age” may initiate the proceedings for the adoption of a child. In a vast majority of stepparent adoption cases, the requirement of a home evaluation and other steps in the “normal” vetting process will be waived due to the familiarity of the parties. The successful adoption of a stepchild, however, will most often depend entirely upon the willingness of the child’s other parent to grant consent to the adoption. By virtue of your marriage, your spouse’s consent is unlikely to be in question, but the other parent must agree or the adoption will not take place. If the other parent is unable to be found to either offer or deny consent, the court may allow the adoption to proceed at its discretion.

In the event the other parent refuses to consent, the only remaining recourse for a stepparent is to demonstrate that the other parent is unfit or should otherwise have his or her parental rights terminated. This is not an easy task, nor a situation which should be pursued without grave concern for the well-being of the child. The state of Illinois is extremely protective of a parent’s rights in regard to his or her child and will not terminate them without appropriate justification.

Future Considerations

A decision to pursue a stepparent adoption is not one to be made lightly. It is important to understand that a successful adoption results in the stepparent assuming all of the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent. This means that, in the event of a future divorce, the stepparent may be required to make child support payments. He or she may also be ordered to help provide health insurance, assist with non-covered medical costs, and contribute to educational expenses for the child, possibly beyond the age of 18. Conversely, the stepparent will have the same standing as a natural parent to seek custody of the child and to secure visitation rights.

For more information about the stepparent adoption process in Illinois, contact a knowledgeable Kane County family law attorney. At Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, our experienced team is ready to help you take the necessary steps to create the best situation for your stepchild. Call our office today at 630-377-7770 to schedule a complimentary consultation.

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