Adopting a stepchild can be one of the most loving and selfless acts that a stepparent can do. No matter the circumstances, it is a voluntary act of devotion. It demonstrates the love that a non-biological parent can have toward a child who is not legally theirs. But there are more tangible reasons to adopt a stepchild, other than a demonstration of love and support. There can be significant practical benefits in adopting your stepchild. These benefits will help you; the child’s parent, your spouse; and your stepchild.
Over the past 100 years, the concept of adoption and its procedure have changed drastically. Adoption is much more common than most people realize. In the United States, there are 100 million people who have someone adopted in their immediate family. One out of every 25 families have an adopted child. Here are some other interesting adoption statistics:
- Of the 135,000 children adopted each year, more than half are six years old or older.
- Children wait about three years on average to be adopted.
- Currently, there are approximately 1.5 million adopted children in the United States.
- Every year, approximately 23,000 children age out of the foster system without being adopted.
- About 40 percent of the adopted children are of a different race than their adopted parents.
Having the Legal Right to Make Decisions
Even though you may feel like your stepchild’s parent because you live with them full time and have been married to their biological parent for many years, under the eyes of the law, you have no legal rights. Without an adoption, you have no legal rights to determine what happens to your stepchild even if you have been the actual mother or father in the child’s life since they were born. The child may even call you Mom or Dad, but you will not be able to be involved in making important decisions about the child’s life. These are the potential important discussions and decisions in which you can be involved if you have officially adopted your stepchild:
- Medical decisions: If your stepchild has health issues and a course of treatment is recommended, as the adopted parent, you can be part of the decision on what is best for your child. You will be able to legally communicate with your child’s physicians and therapists.
- Educational decisions: As the legal parent, you can be part of the decision-making process about which schools your child should attend. You can have discussions with your child’s teachers about courses and any school-related issues that might arise. You also have the right to receive all the normal notifications from school about grades, homework, and extracurricular activities in which your child may be involved.
- Right of visitation: If you do not adopt your stepchild and then your marriage to that child’s biological parent ends, you may not have the right to visitation, even though you helped raise the child from infancy. Another scenario is if your spouse, the biological parent, dies. If this happens, you may not have any rights to raise your stepchild, and other family members could potentially come in and take the child away.
You Can Protect Your Stepchild from a Volatile or Dangerous Biological Parent
In some cases, there is a biological parent who is not in the picture because of being dangerous, volatile, and just not a good influence on their child. If you adopt your stepchild, that dangerous parent’s rights are necessarily terminated. Although the termination of parental rights will terminate any child support, it will also have the effect of preventing the biological parent from any type of visitation, interaction, or influence over your stepchild. With an adoption, you and your spouse would have total control over deciding whether the biological parent would have any contact with your child. Once their rights are terminated, even a court cannot grant the terminated parent rights to their child. Once the child becomes an adult, they can make that decision on their own.
Demonstration of Love
Not only are there practical and economic reasons to agree to adopt your stepchild, but also there are intangible reasons. A stepparent must choose to adopt a child. It cannot be forced on them. By choosing to adopt your stepchild, you are demonstrating to them, in a tangible way, that you love them and will always be there to support them. Regardless of all the legal and practical reasons, showing your love and devotion to your stepchild is the best reason to adopt.
What Is National Adoption Month?
In the United States, November is National Adoption Month. The purpose of National Adoption Month is to spread awareness and knowledge about adoption. Many adoption-related groups and organizations are encouraged to sponsor events and activities that spread the positive idea of adoption, the process of adoption, and all the good that can come of it.
National Adoption Month is designed to shine a bright spotlight on the concept and process of adoption so that people can understand it and maybe not be so leery about adopting a child. The main goal of any agency related to adoption is to help children find their forever homes and to help create loving and supportive families.
Adopting a child, whether it is a stepchild or not, is a wonderful, selfless act. Given that November is National Adoption Month, the Towson family law lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, are here to answer all your adoption questions. We have over 50 years of combined experience in helping our neighbors in Towson and throughout Maryland in every aspect of family law, including advising and facilitating adoptions. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.