Stepparent Adoptions Can Make Family Whole

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Jan 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

Blended families are more frequently becoming the norm in America.

Many new stepparents have no desire to usurp the role of their stepchildren's other parent, viewing their position as more of an additional support. 

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However, there are situations where it can make good sense for custodial stepparents to pursue adoption of their spouse's child. Stepparent adoption in Birmingham is a way for some families to formalize what has already become a way of life. Others want to ensure that should anything happen to their spouse, they would have legal rights to the child.

The state of Alabama recognizes that there are great benefits to stepparent adoption, which is why the legislature has made the process easier through Alabama Code 26-10A-27. For example, the state does not require an investigative home study that would occur in most other adoptions. (The only exception would be if the court ordered it.) Also, certain charges and fees are waived for stepparents, unless otherwise directed by the court.

The one concrete requirement the law lays forth is that the child must have resided with the petitioner for at least one year prior to the application. There are situations in which even this provision can be waived, but the court has to be shown good cause.

The greatest obstacle in these cases, of course, is the other parent. Most of the time when a stepparent pursues this action, it's because the other parent has been largely absent, or perhaps even abusive. Even in these situations, however, stepparents may be in for a battle. There are times when the other parent knows well that formalizing the current arrangement would be best for the child, but wounded pride and spite can be powerful deterrents to consent.

That is not to say that consent is wholly necessary, but the process will be much smoother if you can obtain it without a battle. Effecting a strategy of careful diplomacy with the help of an experienced family law attorney can make all the difference in these matters.

But you can't always expect that it will be easy.

A good example was recently litigated in South Dakota, with the Supreme Court of South Dakota issuing a final review on the matter. In re Adoption of Z.N.F., the father had been largely absent from the child's life after he and the mother divorced. After their separation, the mother accused the father of starting a fire at the home she shared with the child. The father was never formally charged by law enforcement, but the family court found it “likely” that he had started the blaze, given the circumstantial evidence.

Based on this, the mother secured a restraining order against him. Still, the court granted the man supervised visitation with his child. Over the course of several years, however, the father only availed himself of this twice.

Although his parents kept in regular contact with the child, the father said his ex-wife had moved several times and hadn't told him where she'd gone. He stopped paying child support. He reached $67,000 in arrears, even though he worked full-time throughout the time frame in question. He also didn't call or write to the child on birthdays or holidays.

When the mother remarried, her new spouse sought to adopt the child. They requested the biological father waive his parental rights, but he refused. The mother and stepfather then sought termination of the biological father's parental rights through the court, alleging abandonment, continuous neglect and failure to pay child support.

The biological father said he couldn't be held responsible for the lack of contact because the mother had moved numerous times without notifying him of her location. She later argued she did so for her safety.

The court said it did not condone the mother's concealment of her whereabouts, but the father did have court-ordered visitation. He chose not to avail himself of these visits. And although he hadn't known where the mother moved, his parents kept in contact with the child, and he could have easily located the child, had he tried.

As such, the trial court granted a termination of the biological father's parental rights and approved the adoption request of the stepfather.

The biological father appealed, but ultimately, the state supreme court upheld the earlier ruling, deciding the trial court had not erred in finding the father had abandoned and neglected his child and choosing to terminate his rights to the child.

If you are interested in filing for a stepparent adoption in Birmingham, contact Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

In re Adoption of Z.N.F, Dec. 18, 2013, South Dakota Supreme Court

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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