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“Can I Adopt My Spouse’s Child in New Jersey?”
In New Jersey, there are several specific legal requirements that must be in place in order to adopt your spouse’s child. Here's a breakdown.
New Jersey is a perfect place for a family to grow and thrive together. The good news? It’s legal for married couples in New Jersey to adopt each other’s children. However, it isn’t always easy.
Any stepparent will tell you that their new parenting role can be an awkward and incredibly difficult job. Having to “step in” and learn how to co-parent with little to no time to prepare is certainly a tough proposition.
But some stepparents find themselves in a situation where they may consider adopting their stepchild and becoming that child’s full, legal parent. This is a family law matter that can be accomplished in New Jersey, but it’ll require the assistance of a family lawyer—such as those experienced attorneys at Smedley Law Group—to fully complete the process.
Why You Might Want to Adopt Your Spouse’s Child
Many reasons could be behind your decision to adopt your stepchild or children. Probably the most common is the legal protection that adoption applies to the relationship.
For instance, if a husband legally adopts his stepchildren, then he’ll be considered the children’s legal father and will have the right to raise them, should something happen to the mother. A child may also be adopted for financial reasons or to simply ensure that every child in the family is on an equal footing. But this big decision may be for a less tangible reason—to show the child the commitment and love you feel for them.
Yes, You Can Adopt Your Spouse’s Child, But…
In New Jersey, there are several specific legal requirements that must be in place in order to adopt your spouse’s child. These include:
- The adopting stepparent must be legally married to the biological parent of the child;
- The adopting stepparent must be at least 18 years old;
- The adopting stepparent must be at least 10 years older than the children he or she is adopting.
- The non-custodial parent must have had their custodial rights terminated; and
- If the child is more than 10 years old, then he or she must consent to the adoption and be present at the hearing.
Terminating Parental Rights
One of the biggest requirements for adopting a stepchild is that the other biological parent, the one who’s considered the non-custodial parent, must have his or her parental rights terminated. They may do this voluntarily or involuntarily.
If the non-custodial biological parent is willing to voluntarily give up his or her rights, then they must sign a legal document attesting to this. However, it may not be possible to have the biological parent voluntarily give up his or her rights. In this case, legal measures might be required.
For instance, the parental rights may be terminated if it’s not possible to locate the biological parent. (This would require a court order to attest to this.) Their rights can also be terminated if they’ve been convicted of abusing, abandoning, or neglecting the child. Also, a conviction for child cruelty can lead to the rights being terminated.
If a parent hasn’t been convicted of these crimes, the court can still hear testimony about how it would be in the best interests of the child to have these rights terminated. Finally, if a parent doesn’t comply with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency recommendations concerning child custody and visitation, then they may be taken to court and have their rights nullified.
In any of these situations, the parent whose rights have been terminated will lose all custody and visitation rights, but they’ll also no longer be held legally responsible for paying child support.
New Jersey’s Process to Adopt Your Spouse’s Child:
After the noncustodial parent has his or her rights terminated, then the stepparent must have a background check completed. This is conducted to determine if the stepparent has a criminal history (specifically looking for any convictions of a crime against a child) or if there have ever been complaints of domestic violence or issues with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. This background check will help to determine if the stepparent is fit to be the adoptive parent.
Once the stepparent has passed the background check, then they must schedule an adoption hearing with the family court. As previously stated, children who are 10 years old and older must be present at the hearing to consent to the adoption.
During the hearing, the judge will look at all the information and decide whether or not to grant the petition for adoption. If the adoption is approved, then the stepparent will be considered the full legal parent of the child.
This means that he or she must provide the same duties and responsibilities as if they were the biological parent of the child. This also means that, if the adopted parent and biological parent should later divorce, then the adopted parent would be able to sue for custody and also might be required to pay child support.
New Jersey Courts Must Be Involved in the Adoption Process
There’s no way around going to court to adopt your spouse’s child. Even if the other biological parent is voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights, the process can still be a difficult one. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced family law attorney at Smedley Law Group guide you through the process. As the process can at times be lengthy and possibly contentious, having legal representation to work through the red tape is in your family’s best interest.
Contact the Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Glassboro, NJ Today
The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, especially if you’re considering adopting one or more of your stepchildren, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.