What Rights Does a Stepparent Have in North Carolina?

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what rights does a stepparent have

Raleigh resident and devoted stepfather Michael has been married to his wife Sarah for several years. Over time, he developed a deep bond with Sarah’s two children from her previous marriage, Emily and Ethan. He loves them as if they were his own and wants to solidify their connection by legally adopting them. However, Michael is unsure about his rights as a stepparent in North Carolina.

Blended families like Michael and Sarah’s have become increasingly common in today’s society, with sixteen percent of children living in a blended family. In these families, stepparents often play a significant role in a child’s life. 

What rights does a stepparent have in North Carolina? 

Without a legal adoption, stepparents do not have the rights of a natural parent and no legal protection for the child’s relationship with them. To establish official parent-child status and create a sense of permanence, many stepparents pursue legal adoption of their stepchild.

This blog, from a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina adoption attorney, explains state laws, the adoption process, and stepparent rights in North Carolina. Continue reading to learn more, then contact us at (919) 306-2899 to schedule a free, 15-minute consultation.

Benefits of Legally Adopting Your Stepchild in North Carolina

As experienced adoption attorneys can attest, stepparent adoption offers many benefits, such as:

  • The stepparent gains all the legal rights and benefits of a biological parent
  • A stepchild can inherit from the step-parent
  • If the stepparent and the biological parent divorce, the adoption protects the step-parent’s rights to custody and visitation
  • If the child’s parent and spouse of the stepparent dies, the step-parent’s relationship with the child remains secure

Requirements for the Adoption Process for a Stepparent

To successfully adopt your stepchild, you must be currently married to their biological parent and have lived together for a minimum of six months. Any time spent living together before marriage does not count toward this requirement; however, the six-month requirement may be waived in certain circumstances.

Petition for Adoption

Starting the process of adoption requires filing a petition for adoption in the superior court of the county where either you or the adoptee resides.

After a stepparent files the petition for adoption, they must complete several mandatory steps to prove that the adoption serves the child’s best interests, including:

Children Aged 12 and Above Must Sign a Consent Form

In North Carolina, children aged 12 and over have a significant influence on the adoption process. The law requires children in this age group to sign a consent form when their stepparent seeks to adopt them. This consent serves as an acknowledgment of their willingness and agreement to be adopted by their stepparent.

The requirement recognizes the importance of involving older children in decisions that directly impact their lives, ensuring their voices are heard and their feelings are considered throughout the adoption process.

Post-Placement Visits

Adopting a step-child in NC generally requires post-placement visits, which are in-home visits by a social worker. However, the court can waive that requirement if you have been married to a biological parent who has had custody for at least two years. These in-home visits provide the court with information about your home and your relationship with your stepchild.

The Adoptive Parent Must Undergo a Criminal Background Check

In North Carolina, prospective adoptive stepparents must undergo a thorough criminal background check as part of the adoption process to ensure the safety and well-being of the child being adopted. With a criminal background check, the court seeks to identify past criminal offenses or convictions that may pose a risk to the child’s welfare.

By examining criminal records, the court can gain insight into any potential red flags, such as offenses related to violence, abuse, neglect, or other serious crimes that may indicate a risk to the child’s safety.

Release of Jurisdiction

In most cases, for an adoption to be finalized, the state that originally issued the custody order must relinquish jurisdiction.

Parental Consent

Stepparent adoption often raises the question: “Must the other biological parent agree to the adoption?” The answer is not always straightforward. In some cases, the law requires parental consent, while in others it does not. Unfortunately, there are instances where a parent has not taken an active role in their child’s life and neglected their responsibilities, from attending school functions and taking an interest in the child’s school records to being actively involved in health decisions and medical treatment for their child. When this happens, the child may be adopted without the parent’s consent. However, if the noncustodial parent has fulfilled their duty to support and actively care for the child, the law will prioritize preserving that parent-child relationship.

Termination of Parental Rights

When a parent who was once actively involved in their child’s life begins neglecting their responsibilities, it can have serious consequences. Failing to provide financial support, ignoring visitation rights, and overall disengaging themselves from a child’s life can lead to the involuntary termination of parental rights. Because every situation is unique, seek guidance from a knowledgeable family law attorney who can assess your specific circumstances and guide you through protecting your child’s best interests.

Notice of Adoption

The court will require that the other parent receive a notice of adoption if he or she has not consented to it. 

Court Approval 

Be prepared to wait anywhere from six to twelve months from the time you file your petition for adoption to complete the adoption process. 

How Much Does a Stepparent Adoption Cost?

The adoption cost for a stepchild in North Carolina generally involves a filing fee of $120 per child, paid to the Clerk of Superior Court’s Office at the time of initial filing. This fee may vary, so consult an adoption attorney or contact the specific court where you plan to file for accurate information.

The Rights of a Step-Parent Who Has Successfully Adopted Their Stepchild

Stepparents who have successfully adopted their stepchild in North Carolina enjoy specific rights and responsibilities, including:

  1. Legal Parentage: Upon adoption, the stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, including making important decisions regarding the child’s education, healthcare, and general welfare.
  2. Termination of Absent Parent’s Rights: One significant change that occurs after a successful stepparent adoption is the termination of the absent parent’s rights to the stepchild. This termination signifies that the stepparent assumes all parental rights and the noncustodial biological parent no longer has legal obligations or visitation rights.
  3. Custodial and Visitation Rights: As the adoptive stepparent, you gain custodial rights over the child and can establish visitation schedules if necessary. These rights are similar to those of a biological parent to uphold the stepparent’s ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child.
  4. Inheritance and Benefits: After adoption, the child becomes entitled to inherit from the stepparent’s estate, just like a biological child. The child may also be eligible for various benefits and insurance coverage through the adoptive stepparent.
  5. Financial Support: Stepparents who have adopted their stepchild may be responsible for providing financial support, including child support, based on the agreement or court order.

Every adoption case is unique, and the specific rights granted to stepparents may vary depending on individual circumstances. Consulting an experienced adoption attorney is crucial to understanding your rights and responsibilities as a stepparent in North Carolina. 

Mills Adoption Law: Experience for What Matters Most – Family

Have you been searching online for a “step-parent adoption attorney near me” or “adoption lawyers near me?” For legal matters involving a stepparent adopting a stepchild, the search for the right adoption lawyers can feel overwhelming. Make the best choice for your family by consulting a law firm that focuses exclusively on adoption. Bobby Mills, the founder of Mills Adoption Law, has over 35 years of experience in family law, enabling him to provide the informed guidance you need. Having represented all members of the adoption triad—adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees—he has seen things and can anticipate problems other attorneys will not anticipate. He’ll protect your legal rights as a stepparent and guide you through the process if you want to legally adopt your stepchild. Contact him at (919) 306-2899 or complete the online form to schedule your free, 15-minute consultation.

Copyright © 2024. Mills Adoption Law. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

Mills Adoption Law
4600 Marriott Dr, Ste 350
Raleigh, NC 27612
(919) 306-2899

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