Challenges Faced in Stepparent and Second-Parent Adoptions

While being a stepparent has many rewarding aspects, it can also present challenges when legal responsibilities and rights do not automatically extend to one’s relationship with stepchildren. This is why adopting a child as a stepparent is a significant milestone for blended families. In Washington, two common types of adoption are stepparent adoption and second-parent adoption.

Stepparent Adoption: This type of adoption allows the spouse of one of the child’s biological parents to legally adopt the child. In this process, the child’s other biological parent relinquishes their parental rights.

Second-Parent Adoption: This occurs when a non-married individual in the family who is not the child’s legal parent seeks to adopt the child.

Both same-sex couples and single LGBTQ+ individuals are eligible to become adoptive parents in Washington. However, both stepparent adoptions and adoptions by second parents can present a range of challenges that may require legal assistance.

Obtaining Consent from the Other Birth Parent

One of the primary challenges faced by stepparents seeking to adopt a stepchild is obtaining consent from the child’s other birth parent. Stepparents cannot legally adopt children to whom they have no biological connection without the biological parent’s approval. Adoption by a stepparent always necessitates the consent of the other biological parent, unless the parental rights of the biological parent have already been terminated.

Since adoption involves the relinquishment of all parental rights and responsibilities, many birth parents who maintain a relationship with their children may be hesitant to consent to the adoption. In some cases, locating the second birth parent may also prove challenging, making it impossible to secure their consent for the adoption.

Terminating the Parental Rights of the Other Birth Parent

Stepparents who are unable to obtain consent from the other birth parent may be able to bypass this requirement if they can provide evidence that the other parent has abandoned the child, is unfit, or is not the biological father. Abandonment may be established if the other birth parent has consistently failed to provide child support or has abandoned the child for a year or more.

In cases where there are concerns about abuse, neglect, or incarceration of the other birth parent, a fitness hearing can be requested with the court. This hearing assesses whether the other parent is unfit to care for the child. In instances where the objecting birth parent is a man and it can be proven that they do not meet the state’s definition of a “presumed father,” the stepparent adoption may proceed without their consent.

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