Waldlaw Blog

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Fun and Easy" Stepparent Adoptions

Diane Michelsen and I recently wrote an article for the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers (ACAL) -- of which we both are members -- to go in the materials for ACAL's Advanced Adoption Law Seminar that took place a few weeks ago in Southern California. In order to allow attorneys to get Continuing Legal Education credits for reading the article, we had to design a quiz on it -- so we came up with about 20 true/false questions addressing the substance of the article. One of them has become a running joke between us. The question was "Stepparent adoptions are fun and easy: true or false?" Many people who don't do stepparent adoptions would tend to answer "true" to that statement. I, myself, would have guessed it was true (at least as to the "easy" part, if not the "fun" part) until quite recently. After all, many -- if not most -- couples do their own stepparent adoptions without the assistance of an attorney. And in the adoption world, stepparent adoptions tend to be treated as "adoption lite." Well, I have come to learn -- the hard way -- that stepparent adoptions (at least the ones I see in my law practice) tend to be the hardest adoptions in my case load. Typically, before every stepparent adoption there has been a child born to a man and woman who have been unable to make it together as a family. One of them has raised the child while the other has generally become distant -- either by choice or by necessity -- and has ended up without a meaningful relationship with the child. The one raising the child has subsequently married, and his/her spouse has ended up filling the role of parent in the child's life. Now they are seeking to formalize that role. In order to complete these stepparent adoptions, the original absent parent must be contacted and his/her consent sought, or an abandonment proceeding brought against him/her. This often involves contacting someone out of the blue and reminding them of a chapter of their lives that is generally painful and often emotionally unresolved. The call to say "remember that child you had 10 years ago, that you haven't seen in 8 years? Well, now someone else wants to adopt that child and become that child's parent instead of you, and we need you to consent so we can have your legal rights terminated" is never a "fun" or "easy" call to make, as it catches people off-guard and tends to open old wounds, reminding them of shattered hopes and of dreams they once had. I have yet to have a stepparent adoption not work out, one way or the other. In the ones I have done -- and there have been quite a few -- the missing parent has never yet chosen to fight the adoption. Most have consented, understanding that it is what is best for the child. Some have simply chosen not to fight, by failing to appear in court for mandatory hearings. But all that I have spoken with -- and I make it a point to personally speak with them, to show respect and to try to cushion the blow -- have expressed how sad they are that it has come to this. Not "fun." Not "easy." One of the things I love about my law practice is that I always have more to learn, new challenges to rise to, new legal adventures to embark on. Learning the complexity of stepparent adoptions has been one of those adventures. SO -- stepparent adoptions are fun and easy? The correct quiz answer on that one is definitely: false.


  • And it's curious that domestic partner adoptions get lumped in usually with a brief / between stepparent and domestic partner adoption in California - since a dp adoption doesn't seem to have the same emotional oomph of a relinquished parenting role. Stepparent adoption seems not nearly similar.

    By Blogger leanne, at 10:03 PM  

  • Since 2003, state registered domestic partners have been allowed to use the simplified stepparent adoption procedure -- that is really the only similarity. Stepparent adoptions don't require a full home study the way other adoptions do, because the child is already in the custody of a fit parent who has approved the adopting person as a second parent. Before domestic partner adoptions got lumped in with stepparent adoptions, domestic partners wanting to adopt each other's children had to go through full home studies. That made even less sense!

    By Blogger Deborah Wald, at 8:22 AM  

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