Massachusetts law allows step-parents to adopt their spouse’s child under certain circumstances through an independent adoption. The first step in the adoption process is to file a petition in probate court. If the non-custodial biological parent consents then the court will simply finalize the adoption if the step-parent is eligible to adopt. Ineligible step-parents include those who have not lived in the state for more than six months preceding the filing of the petition.
If the other parent contests the petition, then asking the court to terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent is the next step. Termination of parental rights is allowable if the absent parent deserts the child or is deemed incompetent. Evidence of either of these facts must be presented to the court.
It is important to note that same-sex parents can have a step-parent adoption because same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts.
Overall, the step-parent adoption process is much simpler than that of a standard adoption. Home studies and involvement by child protective services are not required. After completing the adoption, the absent parent’s name is replaced by the step-parent’s name on a new birth certificate.
Step-parents have very few legal rights when it comes to their step-child. This is especially a concern if the other biological parent is out of the picture and a significant part of child-rearing falls on the step-parent’s shoulder. For example, step-parents who adopt have the right to make educational and medical decisions that they would not be able to otherwise.
There are other legal consequences of step-parent adoption if the step-parent and parent divorce: the step-parent may be ordered to pay child support or provide health insurance coverage for the child, or even pay for or towards the child’s college costs.
Adopting a step-child is an emotional decision as well as a legal decision. If you are interested in finding out more about step-parent adoption or beginning the adoption process, please contact us to discuss the facts and circumstances of your situation.