Adopting Your Spouse’s Child – Your Guide to Step Parent Adoptions in New Jersey

For many New Jersey couples, a marriage means more than gaining a partner – it means gaining a partner and his or her children, forging a new family together. A new spouse is not automatically a step parent when a couple marries, though. To become a child’s legal parent, an individual married to the child’s biological parent must complete the step parent adoption process. This process differs significantly from the process for adopting a child through an agency or a private adoption.

Relinquishing Parental Rights

A child can not have three legal parents. For a step parent to become a child’s legal parent, the child’s non-custodial parent must relinquish his or her parental rights. This can occur voluntarily or involuntarily.

If the natural parent voluntarily gives up his or her parental rights, he or she loses any right to seek custody or visitation with the child. The custodial parent also loses the right to seek child support from him or her once those rights are relinquished.

If a parent refuses to give up his or her parental rights or he or she can not be located, the court may terminate his or her parental rights so the child may be adopted. If the natural parent is found guilty of any of the following, he or she may lose his or her parental rights involuntarily:

  • A conviction of any crime against a child.

  • Failure to comply with the Division of Child Protection & Permanency‘s requirements for him or her regarding the child.

  • If the court deems that having the step parent adopt the child or otherwise terminating the non-custodial parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

The Step Parent Adoption Hearing and Process

Once the child’s non-custodial parent’s parental rights are terminated, the step parent may apply to adopt the child. He or she must undergo a background check to determine that he or she has never committed a crime against a child or otherwise demonstrated that he or she is unfit to parent. Once this background check is complete, the family is scheduled for a hearing with a judge.

If the child is ten years old or older, he or she must attend this hearing. After the hearing, the judge signs the adoption paperwork and files it with the clerk of the court.

Before you decide to adopt your spouse’s child, it is important to understand the obligations you face as a legal parent. Contact The Law Office of Eric B. Hannum Esq., LLC. at 732-370-9596 or on the web to discuss your rights and options as a prospective step parent.

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