Adopting a Step Child in Utah
Adoption is a process that allows someone to become the legal parent of a child with the same rights (and responsibilities) as if they were biologically related. If you or your spouse have children from a prior relationship and the other biological parent is absent, unfit, etc. you may be considering a step-parent adoption to unite your family and ensure your children are treated equally.
To qualify to adopt a step-child the adopting parent must be:
- Married to the child’s custodial parent;
- At least 10 years older than the child; and
- Have lived with the custodial parent and child for at least a year (although the Judge can waive this requirement).
The adopting parent must also undergo two background checks: one through the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification and the other through the Division of Child and Family Services. The Court is mainly looking to determine if the adopting parent has a history of child abuse, neglect, or related offenses that would render him or her an unfit parent. Petty misdemeanors and traffic infractions will not disqualify an adoptive parent, particularly if they happened long ago. However more serious crimes such as felonies, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and similar offenses could be a concern in which case the Judge may order a home study or require a waiting period to ensure the adopting parent has overcome their past mistakes.
Once you have established you are eligible to adopt your step-child you either need the consent of both biological parents or you have to show a legal reason why a parent’s consent is not required (such as the other parent is dead, their parental rights have already been terminated, or they never established parental rights in the first place). If the other parent has established parental rights and will not consent to the adoption then you have to terminate his/her parental rights for cause to proceed with the adoption. Generally a parent has established rights if they (a) gave birth to the child, (b) were married to the mother at the time of conception or birth of the child, (c) has been declared the child’s father by a court or child support services agency, or (d) signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity along with the child’s other natural parent.
Terminating parental rights is considered the family law equivalent of the death penalty. As such it is not enough to show the other parent is lackluster. Rather you have to show a compelling reason to terminate his/her rights such as child abandonment, child abuse, substantial neglect, parental unfitness, etc. and prove that your step-child is better off never seeing the other parent again. The most common reasons we see for terminating parental rights in the context of an adoption is “abandonment.” That means the other parent has intentionally disregarded the responsibilities that go with being a parent for so long that they no longer have a relationship with their child. Utah law states if a parent goes 6 months or more without visiting or communicating with their child then they are presumed to have abandoned their child (unless the other parent can show they were trying to visit and contact the child but was denied access).
The Court overseeing your adoption case has authority to hear both your adoption case and the termination of parental rights case and these are commonly filed together. If the other parent has not consented to the adoption then we will serve him/her with what is called a “Notice of Adoption Proceedings” which is a legal document stating that an adoption has been filed, that we are seeking to terminate the other parent’s rights, and explains what the other parent must do if they want to contest the adoption. If the other parent does not respond within 30 days after being served with this notice the Court may deem them as having given implied consent to the adoption and can terminate his/her parental rights on that basis. If the other parent does object to the adoption and the Court finds he/she has established parental rights then it will schedule a trial to determine whether to terminate that parent’s rights for cause. It may also order the parties into mediation to discuss the adoption and see if they can agree to a resolution.
Once you have either obtained the other parent’s consent to adoption or terminated his/her parental rights the Judge will schedule an adoption finalization hearing. Family and friends are welcome (and encouraged) to attend this hearing. The Judge will ask a couple questions to ensure you still wish to proceed with the adoption and that everything listed in your paperwork is correct. After confirming this the Judge will grant the adoption and at that point your step-child will legally be considered your son or daughter.
Are you looking to adopt your step-child? If so give the experienced attorneys at Wiser and Wiser a call today at 855-254-2600. We look forward to helping complete your family.
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