Attorney for Stepchild Adoption in Mississippi
If you are considering adopting a stepchild in Mississippi, it is important to consult an experienced family attorney that understands the process.
The reasons that a stepparent may wish to adopt his or her stepchild vary. It may be so that a stepchild can receive an inheritance from the stepparent or get health benefits. Other factors driving adoption include a stepparent’s wish to formalize the relationship and have a say in decisions surrounding the child’s education and medical treatment. Adoption can also have a profound effect on a family’s cohesiveness and a child’s sense of belonging.
Consent from the Birth Parent
While a stepparent adoption is generally not as difficult as other types of child adoption, the main issue that most stepparents adopting a stepchild face is obtaining consent from the other birth or legal parent, because it requires that he or she give up all his or her legal rights over the child, to another spouse. If getting consent is not an issue, then the adoption will usually go smoothly. In some cases, the other birth parent may recognize that the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interest, and in other cases, a birth parent is more than amenable because while giving up his or her legal rights, he or she also is relieved of all parental responsibilities, such as paying child support.
There are two common scenarios when a stepparent can’t get consent from the other parent.
- The absent parent is hostile toward the idea and refuses to consent; and
- The absent parent is difficult to find
In the latter case, it will be necessary to prove to the court that the stepparent has made a good-faith effort to locate the absent parent, either by physically searching for him or, if that proves futile, by “service by publication,” i.e. placing notices in whatever newspaper is most local to the biological parent’s last known address.
Process of Adopting a Stepchild
The process of adopting a stepchild includes completing an adoption petition, which is the legal document filed with the court, requesting the judge to allow the adoption to proceed. There is usually a preliminary court hearing where the judge will review all pertinent documents, including a form that the absent parent can sign and have notarized to indicate consent. The court may also order a home study, conducted by the appropriate state agency, to determine whether the child is a proper subject for adoption, and/or the fitness of the adopting parent. It may also order a criminal background check. If the adopting parent has a record of charges involving child abuse or neglect, or has a history of non-support or abandonment, the court will be much more unlikely to grant the adoption.
Non-Consent or Contested Adoption
In cases of non-consent, the parental rights will have to be terminated by the court if it can be proved that the other parent had either abandoned the child, is unfit, or there has been a substantial erosion of the relationship between the parent and the child.
Abandonment means that the parent has not communicated with the child or provided financial support for a certain length of time. Being unfit includes being abusive, neglectful, failing to visit, having a mental disturbance, being addicted to drugs or alcohol, or being incarcerated.
In all contested adoptions in Mississippi, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child, and will ultimately decide the case based on what is in the best interest of the child. At a final court hearing, the judge will make his or her ruling on the stepparent adoption. The adoption is final when the judge signs the Final Decree of Adoption. This decree states that the child is now the legal child of the stepparent and is equal to any of the stepparent’s biological children regarding rights of inheritance, etc. His or her birth certificate will also be amended to include the name of the adopting parent.
If you are planning to adopt a stepchild, or stepchildren, and you believe the adoption will be contested, you should consult a family law attorney before you proceed. A non-cooperative parent can seriously complicate the procedure and will likely result in a court trial.
If You are Considering the Adoption of a Stepchild, Consult an Attorney with Experience in the Process
The family lawyers at Maley & Nicholas are conversant with all Mississippi adoption laws and can represent your case in one of our chancery courts. Please contact us for information regarding a stepparent adoption. Schedule a consultation with an attorney.