Adoption days are the happy days in family court. I just returned from adoption day and boy was it a happy day! Little boys in pressed shirts and bow ties and girls with tulle headbands. Babies snug in parents’ arms and, my personal favorite, the little ones toddling around looking up at everyone they pass with wide open eyes. Parents with big smiles on their faces and extended family talking loudly and taking pictures.
Everyone is happy to be in court, but what did it take for them to get there? If you are the stepparent of a child and you would like to adopt them, what do you have to do?
The first thing that you have to do is file the paperwork. You need to file a Complaint for Adoption, complete a background check and seek the consent of the biological parents. For instance, if you are a stepfather seeking to adopt your stepson you would need to seek your wife (your stepson’s natural mother) consent, which should be easy to obtain. You also have to notify your stepson’s natural father that you are seeking to adopt him and seek his consent.
Sometimes consent is given, but other times one of the natural parents objects to the adoption. This can be frustrating, particularly if you have been supporting your stepchild emotionally, physically and financially for years and the natural parent has been MIA.
Fortunately, there is a law in New Jersey that provides some guidance in contested adoptions, N.J.S.A. 9:3-46(a). This law provides that the standard is the best interest of the child and that the child’s best interest “requires that a parent affirmatively assume the duties encompassed by the role of being a parent.” The court shall consider the following items in determining whether you have assumed the duties of a parent:
- The fulfillment of financial obligations for the birth and care of the child,
- Demonstration of continued interest in the child,
- Demonstration of a genuine effort to maintain communication with the child, and
- Demonstration of the establishment and maintenance of a place of importance in the child’s life.
You should succeed in adopting your stepchild over the objection of the natural parent if you have assumed the duties of a parent, while the natural parent has substantially failed to perform these parental functions.
If you want to explore the process of how to adopt your stepchild or another child that you are caring for I applaud you. I have a stepfather who has taken on the role of a father for almost 35 years. If there is anything that I can do to help you get to one of these happy days in family court please contact me as I am happy to help.