Stepfamilies are becoming more and more common in the United States as the divorce rate remains high. While in many cases, the ex-spouse (or other biological parent) will continue to be involved in the lives of his or her children after divorce, sometimes the ex-spouse simply vanishes or passes on. For whatever reason, if one parent ceases to play a role in the lives of his or her children, a stepparent may be able to legally step into that role by adopting the children.
When Is Stepparent Adoption Permissible?
There are several points that any stepparent must consider in order to legally adopt his or her partner’s children. First, they must be legally married to the children’s biological mother or father. Up until a couple years ago, this applied to opposite-sex couples only, but it now applies to same-sex couples as well. Second, the law does not permit a child to have any more than two legal parents. In other words, your partner’s ex-spouse must either be deceased, vanished, or otherwise agree to sign away his or her parental rights, in order for you to be able to adopt the child. If the child is over the age of 14, he or she must also give consent, and this is taken seriously. Without it, the adoption will not go forward.
While an ex-spouse must be out of the proverbial picture before you may be permitted to adopt your new spouse’s children, there is one way that this can be accomplished even if the ex-spouse refuses, and that is if the ex-spouse is deemed legally unfit. There are multiple grounds on which parental unfitness can be shown, including child abandonment, failure to pay child support, or any evidence of physical abuse.
If the Ex-Spouse Cannot Be Located
Under Illinois law, the ex-spouse must be given the opportunity to contest the adoption if possible. However, if he or she cannot be located by conventional means, notice must be served by publication, as well as serving a copy at their last known place of residence. Service by publication is when a notice is published in the local newspapers and other media outlets in the county where the ex-spouse was last seen for a set period of time—usually one to three months. If the person is not heard from by then, the court treats the matter as if the ex-spouse is deceased.
One situation where a biological parent may be hard to locate is if the child has no father listed on his or her birth certificate. While a stepparent may adopt the child if there is no listed legal father, it is not uncommon for the biological father to appear at a later date and attempt to seek custody or visitation. Either way, it is a good idea to take steps to finalize the adoption while it is easiest to do so.
Seek Experienced Legal Assistance
Adoptions can be very complex, or they can be very smooth, and sometimes a knowledgeable attorney is the difference between the two. The passionate Wheaton adoption attorneys at MKFM Law are happy to help you ensure your new family is legally protected, and will work hard to keep it that way. Contact us today to set up an appointment.