Marrying someone who already has children from a previous relationship is a way to secure an instant family. However, when you get married to a parent, you don’t instantly become a legal parent yourself. Instead, you step into the gray area known as stepparenthood.
You live with and care for the child, but you won’t have any rights to the child or obligations to them if you divorce their parent later. Adoption by a stepparent can be a way to give your stepchild a sense of security and reaffirm your commitment to your new family. Before you get ready to head down to the court, there are certain things you need to know about your rights to adopt as a Tennessee stepparent.
Does the other biological parent still have rights?
One of the most important deciding factors in whether a stepparent adoption is even possible in your situation will be if the other biological parent is still alive and whether they want to continue to play a role in the life of their child.
If the parent died, you don’t have to approach them or verify their legal status. However, even uninvolved parents can still have the legal rights and authority of a parent. Unless the state terminated those rights, you will have to locate the other parent and ask them to sign a Waiver of Interest and Notice, a document which voluntarily ends their parental rights.
If they agree to do so, they end their obligation to pay child support, which can be an incentive. Unfortunately, if they don’t voluntarily agree to waive their rights, you may not be able to proceed with the adoption.
Is everyone in your family in agreement on the adoption?
You should never assume that your spouse or the child is enthusiastically on board with the idea of a stepparent adoption. There can be a number of complicating factors that you weren’t aware of, such as benefits from a deceased military parent or religious considerations.
Your spouse should be the first person you approach, as they can advise you of any practical reasons why the adoption isn’t a good idea. Only if they are in agreement with you should you then proceed to discuss your wishes with the child. In some cases, even if their parent isn’t a part of their life, they may have strong emotions about terminating their legal connection with their biological parent.
It’s reasonable to provide them with explanations for why the adoption would benefit everyone and to ask them to consider it, but you should never proceed with an adoption against the wishes of the child. The Tennessee courts will always try to focus on the best interest of the child when ruling on whether a stepparent adoption is a good idea. If the child opposes it, the courts likely will too.