Stepparent adoption occurs when a stepparent of a child petitions the court to be considered a legal parent of that particular child. For this to happen, the biological parent must waive his or her parental rights. The other biological parent of the child must also consent to the adoption by the stepparent. For example, if a stepfather wishes to adopt his stepdaughter, generally the biological father of the child must agree to formally give up his parental rights to the court.
Stepparent adoption has many benefits for a stepparent and child who wish to create a formal legal relationship. Parents — including adoptive parents — have many rights recognized under the law. A parent has a right to make medical decisions for his child, to visit his child in an emergency in a hospital setting, to have visitation rights to the child in the event of a divorce, and to make other legal decisions on behalf of the child until the child's 18th birthday. A stepparent who is living in a home and caring for a child may not have those legal rights, or his legal rights may be limited, unless he formally adopts the child.
There are many reasons why a stepparent might wish to adopt a child. He may wish to protect his relationship with the child in the event he and the birth parent ever divorce or in the event that something happens to the birth parent. If a stepparent has not adopted the child and something did happen to the birth parent, he would have no legal rights to the child unless he had completed the adoption, and as such another family member could take custody away from him.
In a stepparent adoption, the individual wishing to adopt the child must petition the court. Most often, this takes place in family court. The parent would then have to attest to his interests in the child and would have to provide proof that the birth parent(s) did not object to the stepparent adoption of the child. The court would then consider the evidence and information presented to determine what was in the best interests of the child. The court could then grant the adoption and the stepparent would assume legal custody of the child from that point forward. Many children would then take the name of the parent who has adopted them, if it is a stepfather who is completing the adoption process.