A stepparent adoption occurs when a stepparent adopts the child of his or her spouse. According to Creating a Family, stepparents in the United States adopt over 100,000 stepchildren per year, making it the most common type of adoption.
Compared to traditional adoption, in which neither parent has a genetic relationship to the adopted child, stepparent adoption can be easier in some respects. For example, stepparent adoptions dispense with some of the steps that do not make sense given the circumstances, such as the home study. However, stepparent adoptions do involve their own challenges.
1. Termination of parental rights
If the other biological parent is still alive, he or she has to agree to give up his or her legal rights to the children before the adoption can take place. If the noncustodial parent refuses to do so willingly, it may be possible for the courts to terminate parental rights involuntarily if the other parent has been neglectful, abusive or otherwise unfit.
2. Conversations about birth parent
It is natural for children to have questions about their other birth parent, especially if he or she has been completely absent from the child’s life. On the other hand, children may also sense that the subject is uncomfortable for both parents, biological and adoptive, to talk about due to negative feelings about the past relationship. In this case, the biological parent should take the lead in letting the children know that it is acceptable to ask questions by bringing up the subject.
3. Family dynamics
Compared to traditional adoptions, the family dynamics of a stepparent adoption are different. In both cases, there is a newcomer to the family, but in traditional adoption, the newcomer is the child while with a stepparent adoption, it is the parent’s new spouse. This can cause rifts if not handled sensitively.
All types of adoption can raise issues about loyalty and identity. By design, traditional adoptions help parents prepare to cope with these issues. There is little, if any, comparable preparation for parents involved in stepparent adoptions.