Step-parent Adoption in North Dakota
Families are created in many different ways, including through adoption. One of the most common forms of adoption is step-parent adoption, in which a step-parent who has come to love a spouse's child as his or her own makes that relationship a reality. Step-parent adoption strengthens existing bonds in a family and offers legal protection to both the adoptive parent and child. Let's talk about step-parent adoption in North Dakota and what it takes to make one happen.
How to Adopt a Stepchild in North Dakota
In order to proceed with a step-parent adoption in North Dakota, the child's non-custodial parent, if living, must consent to the adoption. However, there are several exceptions to this requirement. Consent is not required if:
- The non-custodial parent has deserted or abandoned the child;
- The non-custodial parent has not communicated with nor provided for the child's care and support as required by law or court order for one year;
- The non-custodial parent has had his or her parental rights terminated by a court;
- The non-custodial parent has relinquished his or her right to consent;
- The non-custodial parent has been judicially declared incompetent or mentally defective if the court dispenses with his or her consent.
- The court determines that waiving the requirement of the non-custodial parent's consent is in the best interests of the child to be adopted.
If none of these circumstances apply, and the non-custodial parent still has parental rights, the adoption cannot proceed if they refuse to consent.
If consent is given, or the court determines that consent of the non-custodial parent is not required, the court will grant a request for a step-parent adoption after a hearing and issue a decree which finalizes the adoption.
Legal Effect of a Step-Parent Adoption
Once the adoption is finalized, the step-parent, now an adoptive parent, has the same legal rights and responsibilities as if the child were their biological child. The adoptive parent has an obligation to support the child and the right to make important decisions for the child, such as what medical treatment the child will receive and how the child will be educated. If the biological parent and adoptive parent later divorce, the adoptive parent is entitled to visitation and custody, and will be obligated to pay child support.
Adoption also severs some legal rights, such as those related to inheritance. The adopted child no longer can inherit from the former parent (if the former parent dies after the adoption). The adoption severs the right to inherit from the former parent's parents as well. Of course, the former parent or grandparents could choose to leave the child an inheritance by specifically naming him or her in an estate plan, but there is no right to inherit by operation of law. The adoptive parent and child now have the right to inherit from each other as if they were biological relatives.
Things to Consider Before Adopting a Stepchild
As a general rule, step-parent adoption is a positive step for the adoptive parent, child, and the child's biological parent who is married to the adoptive parent. That said, adoption is a permanent step that alters legal and emotional relationships, and should never be undertaken lightly.
Step-parent adoption can simplify life for the child and parents, in that there will be no more traveling back and forth between parents' homes for visitation. But if a child has a relationship with the non-custodial parent, it's important to realize that a step-parent adoption will extinguish that relationship. So long as the relationship offers some benefit to the child, severing it may cause a great sense of loss for the child. The child may be cut off not only from the former parent, but also from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
If you are considering step-parent adoption, be honest with yourself about your motivations. The best reason to undertake this process is to bring your family's legal reality in line with its emotional one. It is always wise to consider a few sessions with an experienced family therapist to work through any issues that could complicate the adoption later if not addressed.
If you have questions about the legal impact of step-parent adoption, or about the process itself, we invite you to contact our law office for a consultation.
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