Stepparent Adoption in California

The adoption process can be confusing to navigate, especially when there are many different types of adoption with individual processes. Stepparent adoption, though, is relatively more straightforward, and with the help of an experienced attorney you and your family will soon be united. Keep reading today’s blog to learn more about what to expect in the stepparent adoption process in California.

The Stepparent Adoption Process

Stepparent adoption is a type of adoption where the spouse or domestic partner of the child’s parent adopts the child, and it is the most common type of adoption in California. The stepparent adoption process is a little simpler than other types of adoption because one of the child’s birth parents remains their parent. Note that some counties recommend the couple be legally married or registered as domestic partners for a minimum period of time (e.g. one year) to carry on with the adoption, though this is only a suggestion and is not often enforceable. The issue might arise is if you use the county to do your stepparent investigation, but it will not be an issue if you elect to use a private agency.

There are two types of stepparent adoption that determine the process you will undergo – stepparent adoption to confirm parentage or stepparent adoption case. The California Courts pose the following two questions to help you determine which you will take on:

  • Were you, as the stepparent trying to adopt, in a marriage or domestic partnership with the birthparent at the time the child was born?
  • Are you (stepparent) and the birth parent still married or domestic partners?

If you’ve answered yes to both questions, you will undergo stepparent adoption to confirm parentage, and if you’ve answered no to either question you will proceed with a stepparent adoption case.

The stepparent process in California is as follows. In stepparent adoption to confirm parentage, you will only need to do Steps 1-6 below, and in the latter stepparent adoption case you will need to go through Steps 1-11:

  1. Get information about the adoption process.
  2. Fill out your court forms.
  3. Have your forms reviewed.
  4. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms.
  5. File your forms with the court clerk.
  6. Talk with the child about the adoption.
  7. Serve your papers on the other birth parent.
  8. Get the other birth parent’s consent to the adoption.
  9. Have an interview and investigation with an investigator.
  10. Get a court date.
  11. Go to your adoption hearing.

Note that if the child is 11 or under, their written consent is not required, although the investigator during Step 9 will include the child in part of their discussion about the planned stepparent adoption. If the child is age 12 or older, the child must sign a consent to the adoption in the finalization court hearing.

Regarding fees for the investigation, note that there is a $700 fee in Los Angeles County and $270 fee in San Diego County. Most private agencies and social workers, though, charge $700 regardless of the county in which you live.

In the finalization hearing, the adopting parent, their spouse (the child's biological parent), and the child must normally appear. The hearing usually occurs 1-2 months after the investigation report has been filed approving the adoption. Note that due to COVID-19 many counties like Los Angeles and San Diego are waiving the in-person court hearing and are conducting it via video to abide by the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Following the finalized adoption, you will receive a new, amended birth certificate that will list the adopting parent as the birth parent, replace the absent parent, and, if desired, change the child's surname.

Consent from the Absent Parent

Be aware that you need the absent parent’s consent to proceed with the stepparent adoption process. You must:

  • find the other parent and get a written consent (Consent to Adoption agreement); or
  • get a court order to end the other parent’s parental rights after searching for them and proving to the judge that you tried everything possible to find the other parent or to get them to consent to the adoption.

Note that there are two categories of birth fathers under California law – alleged and presumed. Generally, a parent is considered an alleged father if:

  • the birth father was never married to the mother,
  • is not named on the child's birth certificate,
  • has never had the child in his home, or
  • does not have a paternity judgment.

Technically, an alleged father’s written consent is not required, but the court will require proof that you served him proper notice of the stepparent adoption.

Presumed fathers, though, have stronger rights. A father is usually considered presumed if he:

  • was married to the mother,
  • is named on the birth certificate,
  • ever had the child in his home, or
  • has a paternity determination by a court.

The most common way to terminate the rights of a presumed father if he refuses to consent is to bring a Freedom from Parental Custody and Control action against him, arguing the grounds of “abandonment,” which shows that the presume father provided no contact with or support for the child for at least 1 year, showing an intent to abandon. It best to have an attorney present in this kind of scenario that can get complicated. Also, note that if the other parent whose rights you seek to terminate in the adoption process is a mother, they are considered to have the rights of presumed fathers.

One big reason absent parents agree to sign a Consent to Adoption is that their obligation to pay child support will end with the adoption. However, do note that if the absent parent is past due on child support, the granting of the stepparent adoption does not forgive that debt.

Seeking to Adopt? Speak to an Attorney Today.

If you are seeking to file for stepparent adoption, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for legal guidance in the process. The length and straightforwardness of the adoption process will depend on what type of stepparent adoption you qualify for and the cooperation of the absent parent, but having the help of an experienced attorney will best streamline the process for you.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLPtoday for more information on the stepparent adoption process in California!