Everything You Need to Know to Move Forward with the Stepparent Adoption Process in New Jersey
Given that approximately 25% of first marriages in New Jersey result in divorce, second marriages are 60%, and third marriages are 73%, families are changing in the blink of an eye. Frequently, stepparents want to make their membership in the family official by adopting their spouse’s children. Across the country, stepparent adoption is just behind foster parent adoptions, which are the most common. Stepparents do not have parental rights of any kind, and by adopting their spouse’s children, that changes.
Adopting your stepchild requires the experience of qualified adoption lawyers who know the law and have mastered the procedures necessary to get a positive outcome in your case. Having the close support of the lawyers at The Bronzino Law Firm will give you the peace of mind to move forward and follow the necessary steps and requirements to adopt your stepchild.
If you are interested in adopting your stepchild in New Jersey, you can trust us as your law firm to support and guide you along the way. We invite you to give us a call at (732) 812-3102 or get in touch with us online for a free consultation.
Most Common Situations that Lead to Stepparent Adoption
There are three circumstances one typically sees when discussing stepparent adoptions. The first is when the stepparent takes over the role of the child’s birth parent who does want to care for the child, is unable to, or has been declared legally unfit as a parent. Another circumstance is when the stepparent’s spouse (child’s birth parent) dies, and the stepparent adopts the child. Occasionally, when the stepparent and birth parent divorce, the stepparent adopts their ex-spouse’s child.
Stepparent Adoption Route in New Jersey
To adopt a stepchild, the non-custodial parent must give up their parental rights. The stepparent will be fingerprinted and be the subject of a background check. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency will also conduct a brief investigation. After an adoption hearing, the stepparent and the child will have the same rights as though the relationship were biological.
Requirements that Stepparents Must Meet to Adopt
Firstly, there must be at least a ten-year difference between the adopting stepparent and the child who is being adopted. This requirement has been waived from time to time under exceptional circumstances. Also, children 12 years of age and older must write a testimony that they want to be adopted and are aware they will no longer have contact with their birth parents. Children the age of ten and up can offer consent to the adoption process.
Parental consent is the sticky wicket in this process. The non-custodial parent must give up their parental rights to allow the stepparent to proceed with the adoption. If the birth parent is in prison, has an addiction to mind-altering substances, is incarcerated, does not have a place to live, or there has been proven abuse of the child by the birth parent, those are supporting reasons their parental rights could be removed.
Once all requirements have been filled, a family court judge will receive the adoption case and approve or deny it. This is the step that determines if the adoption is granted or denied.
Parental Consent, a Critical Component of Stepparent Adoption
Stepparent adoptions require that both birth parents consent to the adoption, giving up their parental rights. Usually, the birth mother or father, one of the biological parents, is in the relationship and wants the stepparent to adopt their child. Getting consent from the non-custodial parent can be incredibly challenging. It can be worrisome for a parent to rescind their parental rights and responsibilities. They will have no say in their child’s future. Of course, if the parent hasn’t had a relationship with the child for many years, permission may be more readily obtained.
Proving Negligence if Consent of Both Parents is Not Granted in NJ
If one can prove neglect, abuse, or abandonment on the part of the non-custodial parent, losing their parental rights is much easier. If you can prove the parent is not the biological father, he would have parental rights. There are several statutes that allow for the adoption of children by their stepparents without actual parental consent. They all require the birth parent to be notified of the adoption with or without their consent, and it only takes one to favor the adoption.
If the birth parent has not communicated compellingly with their child in 12 months without justifiable cause, this will denote abandonment. Next, if the birth parent is involved in criminal activities, is chronic alcohol or drug abuser, or spends most of their time incarcerated, parental rights could be taken. Also, proven physical, mental, sexual, or emotional abuse, malnutrition, or neglect on the part of the natural parent to the child can cause them to lose their parental rights.
There are times when the birth parent contests the adoption process. The stepparent and their lawyer must compile evidence showing the birth parent’s consent are unnecessary. Meanwhile, the birth parent must establish a relationship with the child that cannot be lost to the adoption. If the judge accepts the stepparent’s case, the adoption is granted; if they get the birth parent’s case, it is denied. An appeal is possible for the losing side.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights for Stepparent Adoption
If a parent’s rights are terminated voluntarily, they relinquish their rights as a parent. When dealing with involuntary termination of parental rights, the parent and stepparent must petition the court to prove the other natural parent is unfit. This is frequently seen when they have been unable to steadily contact the parent, or there is no longer a relationship with the child. If the stepparent can show a profound and valued relationship with the child, involuntary termination is a strong possibility.
How Long is the Stepparent Adoption Process in New Jersey?
It depends on many factors: the availability of the court if the birth parent is contesting the adoption, if you can produce all requested documents expeditiously and with few complications, it could take three months, with more, 12 months or more.
Planning to Start the Stepparent Adoption Process in NJ? Contact our Offices in Brick and Sea Girt
If you or someone you know is going to adopt a stepchild, it is an excellent idea to depend on an attorney to guide you through the process, especially if you suspect you may have trouble in the area of parental rights. A lawyer on our team can explain the best way to handle any situation that may come up and ensure that everything is handled precisely along the way.
The Bronzino Law Firm is prepared to make the adoption of your stepchild a pleasant and memorable moment. We want to meet your growing family’s needs and enjoy nothing more than shaking hands and smiling for pictures when your adoption process has been completed in Asbury Park, Middletown, Manchester, Berkeley, Howell, Point Pleasant, Manalapan, and elsewhere in Ocean and Monmouth Counties.
Open vs. Closed Adoption Attorneys Ocean and Monmouth County NJ
Adoption and Family Law Attorney serving Sea Girt, Spring Lake, Ocean Township, Red Bank, and across the Jersey Shore
If you or a friend or a family member are thinking about adopting a child, you need to know more about open vs. closed adoption.
Closed adoption began during the 1900s when many states began sealing adoption records to protect newly adopted families’ privacy. “Closed adoption” is when a child’s birth and adoptive parents do not know one another’s names or contact information. This gradually became the norm in the United States.
New Jersey joined this trend in 1941, and between then and 2017, the only way to open sealed adoption records in the state was to get a court order. But this was often difficult. Adoptees wishing to learn about their family history, and birth parents hoping to see how their child was doing, and adoptive families wanting to know a child’s history for medical reasons, all faced severe obstacles.
In recent years, people have moved toward greater openness in adoption. More birth parents are expressing a desire to stay in contact with their child to some degree. They may not raise the child, but they do not want to give up all hope of knowing how the child is doing. The idea of going through life without the ability to let the child know they are open to future contact can be profoundly painful to birth parents.
Many adoptive families have proven to be sensitive to these issues. They know that the birth parents made a heartbreakingly difficult decision to give up their child for adoption, and they want to make that decision a little easier for birth parents. Adoptive parents also realize that their growing adopted child might at some point wish to know more about their social, historical, and biological roots.
“Open Adoption” Has Several Definitions
“Open adoption” has meanings across a spectrum, from less open to very open. It can mean that the adoptive family sends the birth family an occasional update and photo. It can mean the adoptive family grants the birth family regular visitation with the child.
In fact, in most private adoptions currently, there is communication between the two families, at least for some period of time following the adoption. Usually, actual visitation is more common when a relative, close friend, or step-family adopts the child. But birth and adoptive families who start as strangers also do sometimes work out visitation arrangements. This is usually done during the adoption process.
Adoptees’ Original Birth Certificates
If you or a loved one is planning to adopt, here’s something else you need to know.
A law passed in January 2017 grants adults born in New Jersey, who were adopted as children, the right to obtain an uncertified, long-form copy of their original birth certificate from the State Registrar, otherwise known as the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics and Registry.
The people who can also access the birth certificate include the adult’s adoptive parents; legal guardians or other legal representatives; the adult’s direct descendants, siblings, and spouses; and state and federal agencies with official reasons.
Because of the new adoption records system put in effect by the law, birth parents are permitted to file a document indicating their preference regarding future contact with a child they have surrendered for adoption. The stated preference can be for direct contact, contact through an intermediary, or no contact. It can be revised at any time. Birth parents submitting a contact preference form must at the same time submit updated medical, cultural, and social family history information. Those indicating a preference for no contact are required to update the family history information every 10 years before reaching age 40 and every five years after that.
Under the new law, birth parents who wished to maintain their anonymity could do so in adoptions completed before August 1, 2015. They needed only to file a request for redaction of their name and other identifying information before December 31, 2016. They are permitted to rescind this request at any time. For all adoptions completed after August 1, 2015, long-form birth certificates, without the birth parents’ identities redacted, are available to those granted access (see the list above).
Under the new law, adoptive parents now have access to their child’s birth information from the beginning of the adoption, but the child does not have access until age 18. Birth parents can indicate their preference regarding contact but do not have the legal right to control whether contact occurs. The amount of contact a birth parent has with a minor child is left to the adoptive parents’ discretion.
Get Your Agreement in Writing
Putting your adoption agreement into writing is a good idea whether you are a birth parent or an adoptive parent. A written agreement clarifies all parties’ intentions and provides a foundation for the process to go smoothly.
You need to be aware, however, that New Jersey courts do not currently enforce such agreements. Once parental rights are transferred to the adoptive parents, these are the people who have the final say about who is involved in the child’s life until the child reaches the majority’s age.
Contact a Toms River Adoption Attorney Today
If you or someone you know needs legal assistance with an adoption, we can help. Our family law attorneys can provide dedicated and reliable legal representation. For information and advice regarding any adoption-related issue, schedule your free consultation today. Secure your family’s future. Call 732-812-3102
Adoption Attorneys and Parental Rights for Stepparents Monmouth and Ocean County NJ
With the growing number of divorces and single parents finding love again, blended families become increasingly common.
A bond that develops between a stepchild and a stepparent can be extremely close and could be as strong as that of a biological parent and child. Civil union dissolutions and divorce dissolves a marriage, but not parental rights, thus allowing parents’ biological parents to maintain their parental rights to their child. Unfortunately, stepparents who find themselves in the same situation have few legal rights or protections, or inherent child custody options, or visitation rights without pursuing adoption.
Alternatively, the Family Court may view a strong, healthy relationship between the child and the stepparent as beneficial in terms of the child’s best interests. In unique situations like these, the court may favor the stepparent over one of the biological parents, thus positively creating tri-parenting opportunities that give the children a well-rounded and healthy childhood or negatively create parental alienation.
Divorce and high-conflict custody battles are tough, life-changing, and stressful, and children should be shielded from acrimony. If divorce and adoption have not taken place, there are still actions a New Jersey child custody and visitation attorney can take on your behalf to ensure your family’s rights and future are secure. Contact the Bronzino Law Firm, LLC online now to make sure your stepparent rights are protected.
Stepparent Adoptions May Mean The Relinquishing of Parental Rights in NJ
Even if the biological parent against whom the stepparent is seeking a divorce is an unfit parent, the law states that in such a situation, the custody of the child should revert to the other biological parent, not to the stepparent. Although there are some minimal exceptions, it is not totally impossible for a stepparent to sometimes gain custody of a stepchild. If a stepparent believes that both parents are unfit and can demonstrate that abuse has occurred, a stepparent may be able to successfully request custody if he or she can also show that ending a relationship between the child and the stepparent would be detrimental to the child. However, a stepparent should be aware that a court will almost always prefer a blood relative to be the custodian of a child, such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle.
Particularly noteworthy, in 2014’s K.A.F. v. D.L.M., the NJ Family Court recognized that it was in the child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with a “psychological parent,” a same-sex couple who were ending a civil union. Thus issues raised during this case may be used to defend the rights of a stepparent in other kinds of child custody cases.
The only sure way for a stepparent to be guaranteed to request custody or visitation is to adopt the child. To complete a stepparent adoption, the spouse of the stepparent must agree. If the adoption is completed, the law views the stepparent as the biological and legal parent of the stepchild with the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent.
Creative Options to Relinquishing Parental Rights & Understanding Stepparents’ Rights
The relinquishing of parental rights is really a worst-case scenario option. A different and effective option that can help you better understand and protect your rights is putting a child custody agreement that will grow and change in different situations as solutions may present themselves. In essence, as long as you are putting your stepchild’s best interests first, you can have the reassurance that the solution you choose is the right one.
The Bronzino Law Firm, LLC team of family law attorneys are devoted to helping parental figures, and the children in their life maintain their relationships. If you or a friend is facing a change in your family life, please schedule an appointment with us today to discuss your rights and plan of action.
Is a Stepparent Financially Obligated to Pay Child Support in NJ?
Stepparents don’t have a specific financial obligation to provide for their stepchild. Generally, NJ Child Support Guidelines calculations do not consider the stepparent’s income or financial situation. The only exception being, if the stepparent adopts the stepchild.
In the event of an adoption, as the child’s legal parent, with all of the same rights and responsibilities of a natural parent, the stepparent could either gain custody of the child or be ordered to pay child support.
Consult a Monmouth Stepparent Parental Rights & Adoption Attorney Today
At The Bronzino Law Firm, LLC, our New Jersey family law attorneys are skilled in supporting families across Asbury Park, Wall, Manasquan, Neptune, Spring Lake, and surrounding towns as they undergo the process of negotiating child custody agreements and parenting time schedules.
Our direct approach ensures that the best interests of the child and the rights of our parental clients are met incompatible ways.
Brick and Sea Girt NJ Same-sex Divorce Attorneys
Monmouth and Ocean County Divorce Lawyers discuss potential roadblocks that divorcing same-sex spouses may come across
Going through a divorce is difficult for anyone involved. It comes with emotional, mental, physical, and financial stress that can turn your world upside down. Often, complicating factors make a divorce even more difficult to navigate, such as when children are involved. Another example is two spouses of same-sex divorcing. Their stresses may be augmented due to a few additional complications in the process.
Dividing Assets Prior to Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage
One of the most difficult hurdles that many divorcing same-sex couples in New Jersey face is their assets division. New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, relatively recently for many LGBTQ couples. Couples who have a longstanding relationship and many shared assets accumulated over the years will have a harder time legally dividing those assets, as their union was not recognized until their marriage was legalized in 2013 or later. As CNBC noted in its 2017 report “Same-Sex Divorce Poses Complications for Some Splitting Couples,” court systems don’t have a standard method of determining how assets are split from a couple that has been together for longer than their legal recognition. According to the report, some courts may accept, given proof, that the relationship functioned at the status of marriage, albeit unofficial, before the passage of the 2013 Garden State Equality Law. In such a case, the judge may consider all assets acquired since then shared assets. This certainly isn’t the standard, so a divorce involving a long-term relationship that has only been legalized in the last few years could mean a dependent spouse losing entitlement to many of the ‘shared’ assets.
State-to-State Discrepancies in Same-Sex Marriage Law
States have dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage differently from state to state over the past decades. Until the Defense of Marriage Act was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and repealed in 2013, determining that the federal government cannot discriminate against a gay, lesbian, or queer couple for the purposes of federal legal rights and protections, same-sex couples have had to navigate their relationships differently. Even after DOMA was overturned, many states took years to legalize same-sex marriage, though domestic partnerships may have been legally recognized. Until 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in Obergefell vs. Hodges, couples who moved between states over the course of their relationship or were in states in which domestic partnership – or nothing – was legal had to live between blurred lines in recognition of their union.
According to Forbes, one of the main difficulties same-sex couples face is that before the DOMA was repealed, many couples obtained a domestic partnership’s legal status. After the repeal, some states automatically converted domestic partnerships to marriages. However, some did not. This means that upon divorce, some couples have to terminate the marriage and terminate the domestic partnership.
The complications that a long-term, interstate relationship can add to a divorce are many. However, they can be navigated and resolved with the support of a skilled divorce attorney who is knowledgeable in the state and federal legal timeline of marriage law before the federal blanket legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
When children are involved
As with any divorce, the inclusion of a child complicates matters. This is especially the case if the child was adopted before the marriage was legalized in New Jersey. The parent who has legal guardianship rights of the adopted child might receive custodial rights in a divorce if the couple was not married at the time of adoption.
If one member of the couple is the child’s biological parent, they will likely be granted custodial rights unless the other parent has undergone the process of adoption. This means that the other spouse is not required to pay child support after a divorce. However, they may also not have custodial or even visitation rights after the divorce if there is no legal relationship between spouse and child. To have custodial rights or visitation rights – and pay child support, the spouse must have adopted or taken steps to adopt or have obtained a parentage judgment.
CONTACT A BRICK, NJ SAME-SEX DIVORCE ATTORNEY
At Bronzino Law, LLC, our divorce attorneys’ team serves clients across Monmouth County and Ocean County towns, including Neptune, Manasquan, Point Pleasant, Toms River, Brick, Asbury Park, Wall, and more in all divorce and child custody matters.
Feel free to call our Brick or Sea Girt Bronzino Law, LLC office at (732) 812-3102 for a free and confidential virtual consultation today to discuss your specific situation regarding any kind of divorce or family law matter.