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Stepparent Adoption in New Jersey | What to Know

If you become a stepparent, you may have a lot of questions regarding your parental rights. Some stepparents adopt their stepchildren and become legal guardians. This can be a difficult process, and you will need the help of a dedicated family law attorney if you are interested in adopting your stepchild. Read on to learn more about stepparent adoption in New Jersey and more about the process.

What Rights Do I Have as a Stepparent?

Unfortunately, in New Jersey, stepparents have little to no rights when it comes to their stepchildren. A stepparent has no ability to petition for visitation or custody of the stepchild during a divorce that supersedes the rights of the biological parents. Even in cases where the biological parent against whom the stepparent is seeking a divorce is an unfit parent, the custody of the child usually reverts to the other biological parent, not to the stepparent. Additionally, New Jersey courts will almost over favor a blood relative, like an aunt, uncle, or cousin.

Why do Stepparent Adoptions Occur?

So, why do stepparents work to adopt their stepchildren? There are a multitude of reasons. Sometimes, a stepparent adopts his or her stepchild in the event that the child’s biological parent is incarcerated or institutionalized. Additionally, because stepparents have few rights when it comes to their stepchild, an adoption would solve this problem.

What is the Process of Adopting a Stepchild?

If you wish to adopt your stepchild, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Both biological/ legal parents of the child must consent to the adoption unless the court finds that the other parent’s consent is not legally required. This will depend on many factors, such as whether the non-custodial parent is named on the child’s birth certificate and the extent to which he or she has taken physical, emotional and financial responsibility for the child. For the most part, a New York court will only terminate parental rights if evidence of neglect or abuse is found.
  • A child over 10 years old must consent to the stepparent adoption and be present at the adoption hearing.

If the above requirements are met and you are able to adopt your stepchild, you will have to go through an adoption process. You will want to retain the help of a family law attorney. The adoption process will likely involve a background check. You will need to be fingerprinted and cleared through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Additionally, there will be an adoption hearing.  When the adoption is complete, the law views the stepparent as the biological and legal parent of the stepchild, with the same parental rights and obligations of any biological parent.

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