There are several types of adoption that are recognized in Ohio, but the most common type of adoption is the stepparent adoption. A stepparent adoption legalizes and formalizes the relationship between the stepparent and the stepchild(ren). The child will even receive a new birth certificate, listing the stepparent as their parent. It’s no longer a “stepmom” or “stepdad” relationship… it’s just mom or dad now.
Do I need consent?
Usually, but like with so many other areas of the law, it will depend on your specific situation. When a stepparent adopts their stepchild(ren), it terminates the rights and responsibilities of the natural parent, so their consent is required, assuming they are still alive. They can choose to give away their rights, but their rights cannot be taken away from them. If the child to be adopted is over twelve years old, the child will also have to consent to the adoption in court.
What if I can’t get consent?
If you cannot obtain consent because the other parent refuses, then the adoption cannot proceed unless specific facts apply.
If, for example, the parent has stopped communicating with the child for no justifiable reason, consent may not be required. The person seeking the adoption has to demonstrate that not only was there no contact, but also that there were no attempts to try to see or contact the child. If parent who has the child took steps to hide or prevent contact, lack of contact might be considered justified. Likewise, if a parent has stopped paying court-ordered child support for one year or longer, you can begin the adoption process.
There are also situations where the natural parent was never in the child’s life to begin with. Perhaps the mother wasn’t sure who the father was, or perhaps she did not want this person to know he had a child for some reason. If there is no father listed on the birth certificate, and paternity was never established prior to the issuance of the birth certificate, then the mother can search the Ohio Putative Father Registry (“OPFR”). The OPFR is a database that is searched as part of the process to determine whether a child can be legally adopted.
Men who believe they may have fathered a child can register on the OPFR as putative fathers, provided they register within 15 days of the child’s birth. A putative father will be notified via email if that child is placed for adoption. Once they determine what their legal rights and obligations are, they may choose to grant consent, or they may choose to withhold it. At best, a putative father can delay the process; at worst, they can stop it completely.
How adoption impacts the natural parent
When the natural parent consents to the stepparent adoption, their legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations are terminated. They will no longer have any visitation rights with the child. They will have no say in how the child is raised. They will have no legal claim to the child whatsoever, but they will also lose any legal obligation to pay child support. If your former spouse is paying you child support and agrees to let your new spouse adopt the child(ren), you will lose any child support you were receiving once they sign away their rights.
Same-sex stepparent adoption
While there are some differences in the rights of LGBTQ couples when it comes to adoption, the stepparent adoption is one of the easier adoption options. As long as the new spouse is willing to assume the responsibilities and obligations of a legal parent, and the biological parents provide written consent, the adoption can proceed. The same contact and support criteria can also permit an adoption in a same sex marriage.
Legal rights and responsibilities
Once a stepparent has adopted their stepchild(ren), they are considered the legal parent. This means that if the couple divorces, the stepparent may be ordered to pay child support. However, they will also have visitation rights and may even be granted shared parenting rights. The stepparent will be treated no differently than a natural parent would in the event of a divorce.
It’s important to understand the full extent of your rights, responsibilities, and obligations before you adopt your stepchild(ren). If you are considering adoption, an experienced family law attorney can walk you through the process, help you obtain consent, and facilitate the adoption process for you. The lawyers at Kirkland & Sommers have more than 100 combined years of experience in all areas of family law and can help make the adoption process easier. While this is probably new to you, we’ve helped hundreds of Ohio families just like yours grow their family through adoption. It would be our honor to help your family, too! Call us today for a free consultation and get your questions answered.