Adopting Stepchildren in Virginia
By: John Whitbeck
What to Know About Adopting Your Stepchild in Virginia
Stepparent adoptions are where a stepparent wants to adopt their new spouse’s child while the spouse maintains his or her legal rights. Stepparent adoptions can involve minor children, but they can also involve children who have already turned 18. Hiring a Virginia adoption attorney can be beneficial when navigating the adoption process.
Differentiating Between Adult, Second Parent, and Stepparent Adoptions
Depending on the circumstances, a stepparent adoption may also be a second parent or adult adoption. These are defined as:
- Stepparent adoption: if you are married and you want to adopt your spouse’s minor child
- Second-parent adoption: if you and your partner are not legally married, but you want to adopt their child, so you will be a legal parent as well.
- Adult adoption: if the stepchild is 18 years of age or older
Reasons People Adopt their Stepchildren in Virginia
There are numerous reasons a parent may want to adopt their stepchildren. These include:
- The stepchild can reap the benefits of your insurance and Social Security.
- The stepchild will be eligible to inherit from you.
- It allows you to make important medical decisions for another person.
- You will have the ability to access medical records during an emergency.
- You will be granted equal rights.
- It can strengthen emotional bonds with your stepchild.
Stepchild Adoption Process
The Virginia Code §63.2-1241 mandates that you must first file a petition in the circuit court for the county where the other birth parent and spouse live or the county where your stepchild lives. The petition will be a joint filing with your spouse because you need your spouse’s (the biological parent’s) verified approval.
The ease of the process will depend on the ease of obtaining consent from the non-custodial biological parent unless their rights have already been terminated. Once the paperwork is filed, and the consent is obtained, the court will set a finalization hearing, and the judge will grant official parental rights.
If the parent objects, then it goes from a simple adoption to a contested one. The court will need to set an evidentiary hearing. All parties will offer evidence and testimony on why the adoption is or is not in the child’s best interests. Every adoption won’t be the same, which is why it is important to have a Virginia adoption attorney who understands your specific circumstances by your side.
Once the process is completed, you can file for a new birth certificate that lists you as the parent and/or a name change, if so desired.
Abandonment Law in Virginia
Virginia has an abandonment law that states that if the birth parent’s identity is known and there is clear and convincing evidence that this person did not have any contact with the child for at least six months prior to filing the petition, the judge may terminate their rights. You still have to give notice to the abandonee parent and give them an opportunity to be heard at the hearing. This also applies if the abandonee’s parents’ whereabouts are unknown.
John C. Whitbeck, Jr. is the founder of WhitbeckBennett. His practice focuses on family law, special education law, and mental health law. He regularly practices in several jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area. He has also been certified as an expert witness in litigation.