One bright spot in the often emotionally charged world of family law is adoption, specifically, stepparent adoption. In this scenario, many times the stepparent has already become a de facto parent to his or her spouse’s biological children. These children often live with the stepparent, may have half-siblings that are the biological children of the stepparent, and already view the stepparent as mom or dad.
The process to adopt a stepchild in Arizona is different from the traditional adoption process. It is viewed as a “relative adoption,” which means that in most circumstances, many of the procedural and logistical hurdles do not apply.
The steps to adopt a stepchild in Arizona are fairly straightforward: In order to avoid the more onerous requirements, like a placement suitability study or accounting review for a normal adoption, the prospective adoptive parent must: (1) live with the child for six months prior to the adoption; and (2) be legally married to the biological parent for at least one year.
Next, the adoptive parent has to submit a written application, or petition, to the Court to adopt the stepchild. Then, the prospective adoptive parent has to provide a notice of hearing to all interested parties – this typically includes: the stepparent, any person required to consent to the adoption, and anyone who may have initiated a paternity action.
Following notice, the stepparent has to undergo a “social study,” which includes a federal and state criminal records check, as well as a central registry records check. This ensures the stepparent does not have any history of child abuse. This is a much easier process than the one required in a non-relative adoption.
The most difficult step can often be the termination of the other biological parent’s parental rights. Termination of parental rights is common to all adoptions – it means that the biological parent is giving up all rights, duties, and obligations to the child, except that the child is allowed to inherit property or receive support from the other parent. Unlike a non-stepparent adoption, the rights of the biological parent who is married to the stepparent are not terminated when the adoption becomes final.
If the other biological parent consents, they simply have to sign a consent document to allow the child to be adopted. If the other biological parent does not respond to the notice sent by the other biological parent within 30 days, then their consent is not required. However, if the other biological parent does not consent, the prospective adoptive parent may have to file a lawsuit in juvenile court to involuntarily terminate or sever the other parent’s rights, which can take additional time and resources. If the child is over 12 years old, their consent is also required for the adoption.
Once the stepparent completes that hurdle of terminating the biological parent’s rights, there is a final adoption hearing with the child present. This hearing is typically scheduled about six months after the adoption petition is filed, and the stepparent typically has physical custody and rights to the child during that time. At the hearing, the stepparent testifies, as does the child. The Court will make findings based on a preponderance of the evidence and will render a decision based on the best interest of the child. If the adoption is granted by the Court, the final order completing the adoption is entered.
Navigating the court system can be confusing and intimidating, even in non-adversarial matters like adoption. At Provident Law® our vision is to “bring peace to our clients through excellent legal representation.” If you or someone you know has questions regarding adoptions or any other family law matter, contact us today to schedule a consultation with Anne Munsil Courchaine or Jim Mueller. Our family law attorneys provide legal representation in all family law matters, including guardianships, separation of marriage or divorce proceedings, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, child support modifications, spousal maintenance, emancipation, and domestic violence and order of protection issues.
Anne Courchaine is an associate attorney with Provident Law®, where she focuses on real estate, commercial litigation, and family law. She can be reached at email@example.com or 480-388-3343.