A step parent adoption is one of the types of adoptions allowed under Alabama law. In this type of adoption, one of the adoptive parents is the husband of the biological mother, or the wife of the biological father.
The most common types of adoption filed in Alabama are stepparent adoptions.
In this age of blended families, a person may be in a child’s life for many years. The stepparent often wishes to formalize this relationship and establish the legal bond of a parent and child with their step child.
In a step-parent adoption, the spouse of a natural parent adopts the spouse’s child. It should be noted that the adoptive parent and the biological parent must actually be married. One cannot adopt their fiancée’s, girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s child.
Although it is one of the relative adoptions, a step parent adoption in Alabama usually involves the termination of parental rights. Therefore it involves important legal issues, and you should consider getting legal advice from an Alabama adoption lawyer.
Some of the key issues in a stepparent adoption are consent, residency and a home study.
Who Must Consent to a Step Parent Adoption in Alabama?
An Alabama court will only grant a stepparent adoption if certain people consent. Generally, this means the consent of both birth parents.
First and foremost, the natural or legal parent must consent. Without his or her consent, there can be no stepparent adoption proceeding.
Second, the other biological parent must consent (in most cases). This consent can be in writing, or it can be implied by action, or excused under certain circumstances. More on this down below.
Thirdly, if he or she is fourteen years old or older, the minor child must consent to the adoption.
The Judge may excuse the child’s consent, if the child lacks the mental capacity to consent. This happens most often when a special needs child is in foster care.
Exceptions to the Consent Rule
There are some important exceptions to the rule. These situations require no consent.
When a biological parent abandons a child, then their consent is not required in the adoption proceeding
The state of Alabama considers a child abandoned if:
- the father, with knowledge of the pregnancy, does not offer any emotional or financial support to the birth mother for prior to the child’s birth,
- a parent leaves the child without provision for his or her identification for a period of 30 days
Leaving a Child with Family Members
Consent is also not required in Alabama adoptions if a parent leaves a child with others for a period of six months or more without providing support for the child and without communicating with the child or caregivers.
Failure to Respond to a Notice of Adoption
Alabama state statutes also do not require consent when a biological parent does not answer a notice regarding adoption proceedings within 30 days. The court basically defaults those parents.
Termination of Parental Rights
Consent is not required from parents whose legal rights to a child have been terminated by a court.
Relinquishment of Parental Rights
Parents forfeit their right to withhold consent when they relinquish their rights to a licensed adoption agency, or the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
Finally, parents who are considered mentally incompetent do not need to consent to the adoption of their child.
Residency Requirement to Adopt a Stepchild
Alabama has a residence requirement for the adoption of a spouse’s child.
To adopt a stepchild, the child must reside with the adopting stepparent for at least one year prior to filing the petition for adoption. This is a longer time than for a non-stepparent adoption.
However, the Court may waive this requirement, if there is a good reason to do so.
Home Study for a Step Parent Adoption in Alabama
The Alabama home study process typically requires an investigation into the petitioner as well as the petitioner’s home. A social worker generally conducts this pre-placement investigation.
However, the stepparent provision in in the Alabama code, does not require the pre-placement and/or post-placement investigation. Unless the probate court, in its discretion, requires such an investigation.
If you feel that you and your spouse can meet the requirements for a step parent adoption, you must consider whether or not it is the right thing to do for your family.
Should I Adopt My Stepchild? (Or Should I Allow My New Husband/Wife to Adopt My Child?)
In today’s world, many parents find themselves remarried, and their children find themselves living with stepparents.
The stepparent should ask himself if he should adopt his stepchild. On the other hand, the natural parent should ask themselves whether they should allow their new spouse to adopt their child.
Adoption of A Child Creates a New Family Unit
You should only adopt your stepchild if you are prepared for a lifelong commitment.
Adoption is permanent.
Considerations for the Stepparent
Here is a list of some of the things a stepparent should think about before adoption their spouse’s children:
- You cannot un-adopt your stepchild when he or she becomes a teenager, and starts hanging out with the wrong crowd, staying out all night, and getting into trouble.
- You also cannot un-adopt your stepchild if your marriage ends in divorce. You will have to pay child support, if you do not have custody.
- You will be responsible for your adopted child’s medical bills.
- You will be responsible for any harm your adopted child causes to others.
Considerations for the Natural Parent
Some of the things a natural parent should think about before allowing their spouse to adopt their child:
- Your child will also become your spouse’s child.
- If you divorce, your spouse could end up with custody.
- The adoption may cut off ties with the biological parent’s family.
It is important for bath parents to remember that adopting a stepchild is a lifelong commitment. The marriage may be very good now, but even good marriages can turn bad.
Both parents need to know that neither can simply change their mind about the adoption down the road if the marriage does not work out.
If you, as the stepparent, are unwilling to continue the parent/child relationship if the marriage goes south, then you should not adopt your stepchild.
You, as the natural parent, should not consent to the adoption, if you are unwilling to have your spouse continue the parent/child relationship in the event of a divorce.
Should the marriage end in divorce, both parents will still need to have cordial communications with the other, in order to co-parent the child.
No one wants to think about the possibility of divorce when things are going great at the beginning of a relationship. However, statistically, around half of all marriages end in divorce.
If you still decide to proceed with the stepchild adoption, then the stepparent adoption process is set out below.
Alabama Step Parent Adoption Process
Here is a list of steps you will need to take to make the step parent adoption in Alabama happen.
Line Out the Consents
The first thing to do is to make sure you have all the necessary consents.
Parental consent is a very important legal issue in a legal adoption process.
First and foremost, you need the consent of your spouse. The stepparent adoption will not happen if the natural parent spouse does not want the adoption.
Second, you need the consent of the other natural parent. If you cannot get the other parent’s consent, then you need to see if one of the exceptions apply.
If the other natural parent objects to the adoption, then the legal process is different. In such a case, you really should get help from an experienced adoption attorney.
Finally, you will need the consent of the child, if he or she is 14 years or older.
When you have the consent issues sorted, the next step is to file the Petition.
File the Petition
You file he petition with the probate court, along with the consents of the legal parents and the child (if 14 or older). You must also pay the filing fee, which varies by County, but is usually less than $100.
The petition to adopt a child is a relatively simple form. It contains the following information regarding the petitioner, the biological parents, and the child:
- the names, dates of birth of the petitioner and the child,
- the marital status of the petitioner,
- the child’s birth name, and proposed name upon the completion of the adoption,
- the county of residence of the petitioner and the child,
- how long the child has resided with the petitioner, and
- statements regarding the consent of the petitioner’s spouse, which is usually the mother.
In addition, attach the the child’s original birth certificate, and the marriage license of the petitioner and the child’s legal parent as exhibits.
Serve the Petition on Biological Parents and DHR
You must serve notice of the filed petition on the biological parents, as well as the Alabama State Department of Human Resources (DHR).
Service on Parents
The Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure set out the requirements for service on parents. However, parents can, and usually do, waive service when they sign their consent.
Service on DHR
You may serve the Alabama State Department of Human Resources by certified mail. However, you must be sure to serve the state office in Montgomery, not your local or county office.
Wait for DHR to Complete Its Investigation
The Alabama DHR will check the putative father registry for an unknown father, who may have registered as a possible father for the minor child.
In addition, the DHR will do a child abuse and neglect investigation. This is to make sure the Petitioner has not abused or neglected some other children in the past.
After the DHR makes its investigation, it will send an acknowledgment letter to the probate judge. Then the petition is ready for a hearing.
Alabama’s adoption laws require that all adoptions be set for hearing before the probate judge. At this hearing, the Judge must find that all of the adoption requirements have been met.
These requirements are:
- that the child has resided with the petitioner for the required time,
- that all necessary consents have been obtained,
- that service has been made to all persons entitled to receive notice,
- that all contests have been resolved, and
- that it is in the child’s best interests for the final adoption decree to be entered.
If all the requirements have been met, then the Judge will enter a Final Decree of Adoption, showing the new name of the child.
The legal effect of the Adoption Decree is that from that day on, the child is treated as the biological child of the petitioner.
Furthermore, the biological parent’s parental rights are terminated, and he or she will no longer have any parental responsibilities to the adopted child.
Getting a New Birth Certificate
After a successful adoption, the adopted child gets a new birth certificate. The former stepparent now listed as the biological parent.
Stepparent adoptions are the most common type of adoption, but there are other forms of adoption.
Other Various Types of Adoption
Some other types of adoption are listed below.
These adoptions involve people who adopt children in a foreign country.
Generally, the child is adopted in the foreign country, in accordance with that country’s laws.
The parents and the child then return to the United States. Then there is a proceeding in Alabama to adopt that foreign born child. Once that is done, then the parents can then get a birth certificate. The new certificate indicates the child was born to the parents in a foreign country.
All the other types of adoptions are domestic adoptions. There are several.
All adoptions are private. What this terms usually refers to is adopting a child who is not in the custody of DHR.
An example is when parents know that they want to give up their child for adoption right after birth. They may make arrangements for some family member or an acquaintance to take and adopt the child at birth.
Other examples of private adoptions are grandparent adoptions or other relative adoptions.
Adult adoptions are not very common. However, Alabama law permits people to adopt an adult.
The main requirement is that the adult to be adopted (and their spouse, if there is one) must consent.
Adult adoptions are also often step parent adoptions. They come about because a person develops a close relationship with their stepparent. Then want to cement that relationship when they become an adult person.
Uncontested Step Parent Adoptions in Alabama Are a Good Thing
Uncontested stepparent adoptions are some of the most pleasant family law cases that a law firm handles.
Even judges like them, because they are one of the few family law situations where nobody is fighting with anyone.
Do You Need a Lawyer for a Stepparent Adoption?
An uncontested stepparent adoption may be a case that could be handled by parents on their own, without a lawyer. The entire adoption process is relatively simple, and can be completed quickly.
Unfortunately, Alabama adoption forms are pretty scarce on the website of the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts (AAOC). The only adoption court forms available at the time of this writing is a Petition for Adult Adoption, and the related consent.
A stepparent adoption is a life changing event for all the parents, natural and adoptive, as well as their child.
The legal documents may be relatively simple, but they are extremely important. Adoption forms from any source other than the AAOC or a site such as Alabama Legal Help may be unreliable.
In addition, some Judges in some counties may have special requirements for stepparent adoptions in their courts. Using a local, experienced adoption lawyer is always your best bet.
Therefore, if you live in Birmingham, you should look for Birmingham stepparent adoption attorneys. On the other hand, if you live in Opelika, find yourself a Lee County adoption attorney.
By Steve Harton – I am an adoption attorney practicing mostly in Wyoming. I am also licensed in Utah and Florida. Although I did get my Bachelor of Chemical Engineering Degree from Auburn University, and I did live in Birmingham for a few years, I am not licensed to practice law in Alabama. As with all content on Lexedia, this article is legal information for everyone but not legal advice for anyone.