Children may stay close to both biological parents after they divorce, but sometimes a stepparent can become as influential to the child as a biological parent. Additionally, some divorced parents don’t want to have much contact with their children or much involvement in their lives. For these situations and others, Virginia has a procedure for stepparents to legally adopt their stepchildren.
Initiating the Process
In Virginia, a biological parent cannot petition the court to terminate his parental rights. This procedural roadblock helps keep biological parents from terminating their rights to avoid making child support payments. Instead, the stepparent must initiate the adoption process since he will be the one taking on legal responsibilities for the child.
When a stepchild’s biological parent is deceased, unknown or willing to terminate his rights, the adoption process is a simpler procedure and doesn’t require a court hearing. Typically, this type of adoption requires the stepparent to file a petition in the local circuit court with the custodial biological parent indicating her consent to the adoption. Then, the court enters a Final Order of Adoption at its discretion. Typically, courts will approve the adoption of a child who has lived with his stepparent for at least three years. However, the court may also order a home study to analyze the situation before permitting the adoption.
Virginia courts can terminate the parental rights of a biological parent based on Virginia’s abandonment statute and permit the stepparent to adopt the child without the biological parent’s consent. Abandonment only applies if the noncustodial biological parent has not had any contact with his child for at least six months before the stepparent files the adoption petition. However, this type of case is a bit more complicated than an uncontested adoption since the noncustodial parent must be notified and the court will hold a hearing. If the noncustodial parent cannot be found, the court can still grant the adoption without the absent parent's consent if it is in the best interests of the child.
Noncustodial biological parents have the option to contest the adoption, forcing a hearing where both sides can present their cases. If the noncustodial biological parent contests the adoption, the stepparent must show that his objection is contrary to the child’s best interests. The court will consider evidence about what living situation is in the child’s best interests. For example, if the noncustodial biological parent has previously avoided providing for the child and having contact with her, the court could determine his objection is not in the child’s best interests and allow the adoption.