In today’s modern family it is not unusual for a parent to marry and the new step parent to assume the role of the second primary parent to the child. I will explain the legal implications of this arrangement using the most common scenario- a household consisting of a biological mother and step father. Often, the step father is in the role of a parent to the child in every way except legally. Stepdad coaches the little league team, attends father/daughter dances, helps with homework and really acts as a second parent to the child. BUT-unfortunately that parent has lots of financial and emotional responsibility and none of the actual legal authority.
In a significant number of these cases the biological father is absent. He has had no meaningful relationship with the child in months or years. Maybe he has not paid any child support at all, or is frequently in arrears on his obligation.
The above fact pattern displays solid grounds for the termination of parental rights of the absent parent and the creation of a legal parent/child relationship between the child and the stepfather. New Dad will now have BOTH the responsibilities AND authority.
Of course the most compelling reason to move forward and formalize the legal relationship is the risk to the child should Mom suffer an untimely death. In the absence of a step parent adoption, the biological father, who may have no relationship whatsoever with the child could have GREATER legal rights than the man who has co-parented the child with mother for years. Not only is this unfair to the step-parent who has been a stable, encouraging influence in the child’s life, it is confusing for the child that has lost his mother, and will potentially lose his sole father figure as well.
In Pennsylvania, a step parent adoption is a court process whereby the rights of the biological father are terminated and replaced by the parental rights of the stepparent. Rights may be terminated either VOLUNTARILY (preferred) or INVOLUNTARILY (must have grounds). The day of the adoption court hearing is a festive day at the courthouse with family and friends there to celebrate with the child and family. Upon the Judge signing the Final Decree of Adoption, the child has the safety of two legal and involved parents. A new birth certificate is then issued by Pennsylvania Vital Records with Mom and Dad’s names listed as parents. There is often also a surname change for the child on the new birth certificate.
Our offices handles quite a few step parent adoptions each month and would be happy to give you more information on timeline and costs. Please visit our website for more information.