The decision to adopt a stepchild is a big one, but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both you, your new spouse, and your child. In my experience as a family law attorney in Texas, I have worked with numerous couples to help them navigate legal issues on the path to growing their family.
If you’re a stepparent who is interested in adopting your stepchild, then this guide is for you. I will walk you through the legal process of step parent adoption in Texas so that you know what to expect on the path to starting an exciting new chapter in your family.
Criteria for Adopting a Stepchild in Texas
To file for the legal adoption of a stepchild in Texas, you must meet several criteria. Let’s review the most important elements.
1. Marriage and Residency
For starters, you must be married to the child’s legal parent. Texas family law also requires that the child resides with you for at least six months before you can adopt them. You will need to show that you have provided care and support for the child during this time and that the child has bonded with you as their new parent.
2. Consent of Both Legal Parents
In addition to these basic criteria, you must have the permission of both legal parents. There are exceptions to this rule, but Texas family law still requires a child to have no more than two legal parents.
Therefore, the other parent will need to agree to terminate their parental rights. This can be tricky if the other parent is unwilling to give up parental rights. You will want to work with a family law attorney to determine the best course of legal action to help you out.
However, if the other parent is unfit to parent the child, is deceased, cannot be identified or located, or is incarcerated, you may not need their permission to file for adoption. Additionally, if one parent has had their parental rights terminated or has abandoned the child for a significant period, you will not need that parent’s permission to adopt.
3. Consent of the Child
You may also need the consent of the child being adopted if they are 12 years of age or older. However, if the court believes that the adoption would be in the child’s best interest, a judge may waive the requirement to obtain the child’s consent.
Legal Process to Adopt a Stepchild in Texas
If you meet the criteria to adopt a stepchild in Texas, you’ll need to follow certain legal steps to make the adoption official.
1. Filing a Petition for Adoption
The process begins by filing a petition for adoption with the local family court. In Texas, there are two main types of adoption petitions. The type you will need to file depends on the unique factors of your case.
Original Petition to Terminate Parent-Child Relationship and for Step Parent Adoption
One type of adoption petition used for step parent adoptions in Texas is the Original Petition to Terminate Parent-Child Relationship and for Step Parent Adoption. This type of petition is used when the child has two legal parents. To use this petition, the child’s other parent must be alive and have no court order terminating their parental rights.
Original Petition for Adoption
Another type of step parent adoption petition in Texas is the Original Petition for Adoption. This may be used when the stepchild being adopted has only one legal parent, which might occur when the other parent is deceased or has terminated their parental rights. This type of step parent adoption in Texas is generally more straightforward than that involving two legal parents.
2. Seeking Parental Consent
After filing the Original Petition to Terminate Parent-Child Relationship and for Step Parent Adoption, you will need to notify the child’s other legal parent in person or by certified mail that you intend to adopt the child. This is not required if you meet the criteria to file an Original Petition for Adoption.
The next step is for the other parent to give their official consent to the adoption in writing. If they fail to give consent, you will need to seek a court order to terminate the other parent’s parental rights, and this can drag out the process and may require multiple court hearings.
3. Finalizing the Adoption
Once all the necessary paperwork has been filed, the court will set a hearing date. At this hearing, the judge will ask you questions about your relationship with the child and your motivation for wanting to adopt them.
If the judge believes that the adoption is in the child’s best interest, they will sign an order making the adoption official.
Your Rights and Responsibilities After Adopting
After an adoption is finalized, Texas law awards adoptive parents all the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents. The child may be able to get a new birth certificate with your name listed as the parent to solidify this change.
1. Parental Rights
Parental rights in Texas include the right to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing. Activities like enrolling the child in school or taking them to the doctor will require your consent.
Additionally, you will have the right to inherit from the child, and the child will have the right to inherit from you. The child will also be eligible for coverage under your health insurance.
2. Parental Responsibilities
You will be legally responsible for providing the child with financial support, a home, food, and clothing. This includes paying for the child’s education and health care costs.
If you divorce or separate from the child’s parent, you will still have the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent. This also means that you may be ordered to pay child support if you are assigned the role of a non-custodial parent.
3. Other Adoption Benefits
The legal adoption will also allow you to change the child’s name if you choose to do so. Other benefits of adopting a stepchild include the peace of mind that comes with knowing your relationship is legally recognized and secure. The adoption will also give the child a sense of belonging and stability, knowing they are a permanent part of your family.
When Should You Work With an Adoption Attorney?
Adopting a stepchild is a wonderful way to build a stronger family bond. However, the process can be complex, and it’s important to make sure you understand all the legal implications before proceeding.
While you are allowed to represent yourself in court, it’s generally in your best interest to work with an experienced adoption attorney. I can help you understand your rights and responsibilities and improve your odds of securing a favorable outcome for your family.
I currently help families in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, and Harris County with step parent adoption in Texas. If you live in one of these counties and are considering adoption, please call my offices at 979-267-7660 or 281-944-5485 to schedule a consultation.
I’ll be with you every step of the way helping you navigate the legal process and ensuring that your rights are protected.