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Melissa A. Featherston

What are the challenges of adopting your spouse's child?

This time of year, when families are celebrating the holidays, it's not uncommon for people to consider legally adopting their stepchildren if the other birth parent is no longer alive or involved in the child's life.

If the other birth parent has passed away or if that parent consents to the adoption, the process is generally easier than it is for other types of adoption. Often, requirements for hearings and home visits are waived by the court.

If the other birth parent is still alive but has essentially been an absentee or otherwise unfit parent, he or she can still refuse to give consent. If you are determined to fight for your right to adopt the child, you can seek to terminate the other parent's rights. This can be done by proving abandonment, abuse, mental illness, drug addiction or other conditions that would warrant terminating parental rights. Incarceration may also be grounds for terminating rights.

If you can prove that a man fighting giving up parental rights isn't the biological father, that would remove any requirement that he provide consent. However, with all of these strategies, it's important for all of the adults involved to consider the impact that the court battle would have on the child.

People in same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships are often raising a child together who was born to or legally adopted by one of the partners. Adoption by the second parent can give that "non-legal" parent full parental rights and further solidify the family bond.

Despite the nationwide legalization of marriage, state laws still vary on same-sex parental adoption. Currently, Missouri has no specific law to prohibit same-sex second parent adoption.

Regardless of whether you're facing a fairly straightforward adoption or a potentially complicated one, it's wise to seek experienced legal guidance. This can help make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Source: Findlaw, "Stepparent Adoption FAQ's," accessed Dec. 16, 2016

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