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Can You Adopt Your Stepchild?

Sometimes noncustodial biological parents are absent from their child’s life, or their presence threatens/harms the child. In these cases, the child might have a stronger bond with their stepparent, and you may be considering stepparent adoption. To do so, the noncustodial parent’s rights must first be terminated.

A stepparent might choose to adopt their stepchild to:

  • provide an inheritance;
  • give the child their last name;
  • make medical or other decisions on behalf of the child;
  • encourage emotional fulfillment;
  • be an addition to the birth certificate.

Voluntary Relinquishment

For a stepparent to adopt their stepchild, the biological parent first must give up their parental rights. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may voluntarily give up their parental rights. Perhaps they have never played an active role in the child’s life or don’t have a relationship with them. Whatever the reason, a noncustodial parent must make a written statement detailing the relinquishment of their rights.

Under Tennessee law, a parent cannot relinquish their rights until the child is 4 days old. The parental responsibilities will end with the termination of rights. This means that if the noncustodial parent has been paying child support, they will not need to any longer.

If the noncustodial parent is deceased, you can present the death certificate to the court to serve as the voluntary relinquishment.

Involuntary Termination

Sometimes the noncustodial parent will refuse to terminate their parental rights. If this happens, you will need to present a valid reason to the court as to why termination is necessary.

Some common reasons include:

  • abandonment;
  • abuse;
  • neglect;
  • failure to maintain contact with the child;
  • long-term drug or alcohol abuse; or
  • incarceration.

You need to serve the noncustodial parent with a copy of the petition for termination. They will have 30 days to respond to the petition. If they never respond, they will lose by default and the court will sever their parental rights.

If the noncustodial parent does respond, the court will schedule a hearing where both sides present evidence to argue whether the noncustodial parent should retain custody.

Consent of the Custodial Parent and Child

The custodial parent must consent to the adoption and, if the child is 14 or older, they must consent as well. Consent must be in written form and presented to the court during the adoption proceedings.

The child will privately meet with the judge rather than testify in open court. A judge will sometimes interview children younger than 14, but only the consent of the older children is required for legal adoption.

Compassionate Adoption Attorneys

Our stepparent adoption attorneys can help you simplify and minimize any adoption limitations you may face. We work closely with our clients to ensure the adoption process goes as smoothly as possible.

Schedule your free phone consultation or call us today at (931) 240-2752.