What is the law regarding adopting stepchildren in Virginia?

Stepparent adoption involves a stepparent obtaining legal custody of a stepchild. It has different rules and regulations than an agency adoption.

A stepparent adoption is when a stepparent wants to adopt a stepchild. This type of adoption is much different than one handled by an agency because it involves at least one of the biological or legal parents remaining the legal parent of the child. However, there are still specific laws that regulate what can and cannot occur, along with what the court's obligations are in these matters.

Agency vs. non-agency adoption

The United States Coast Guard notes a stepparent adoption is not going to be handled through social services nor will it require the home visits and probationary periods common in agency adoptions. The one major similarity in agency and non-agency adoptions is there will always be a termination of parental rights for one parent, including visitation and child support obligations.

The adoption may not require an investigation as with an agency adoption, but the court still has the right to order one, according to Virginia's Legislative Information System. The court typically will not order one if full consent is given or if the child is over the age of 14 and has lived with the stepparent for at least five years. An investigation may be ordered if the biological parent objects. The court bases final decisions on what is in the best interest of the child.

Consent must be established

As with any adoption situation when a stepparent wants to adopt a child, consent must be obtained. It is almost always required from both parents. The parent giving up his or her rights needs to sign a consent form saying he or she is giving up his or her parental rights. The custodial parent must also consent to the adoption.

There are some exceptions, though. Consent is not needed in situations where the other parent is deceased or the biological father has denied paternity. If the situation is a stepfather adopting a stepchild and the mother makes a legal statement the biological father's identity cannot be determined, then no consent is needed from the father. In any situation, consent does not need to be obtained if the other parent's parental rights have been terminated.

General adoption requirements

Even for a stepparent adoption, there are some general requirements that must be met as defined by the Child Welfare Information Gateway. These include that parties need to be residents of Virginia and the stepparent must be at least 18 years old. The parent and stepparent need to be married, and the biological parent needs to have legal custody of the child.

Stepparent adoptions are often what is best for children who have an absent parent who is not in their lives. A stepparent may step in and take on the parental role. For those interested in this type of adoption, it is often advantageous to seek the assistance of a qualified attorney.