Considering the number of single parents and divorces filed each year, blended families are increasingly common. The bond between a stepparent and a stepchild can be extremely close and just as strong as one that exists between a child and a biological parent. Unfortunately, while the rights of parents in regards to their children are aggressively defended in court proceedings, stepparents have few of these legal protections. Stepparent adoption may be a solution in some of these situations. In the event a divorce occurs and an adoption has not taken place, there are still actions our New Jersey child custody and visitation attorney can take on your behalf.
Protecting Your Relationship With a Stepchild Through Stepparent Adoption
For families in which one parent is no longer in the picture, stepparents may assume this important role. In some cases, this relationship springs out of the fact that the child was an infant or very young when the stepparent became involved. In others, it is a relationship that has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, no matter how close you are with your stepchild, the law does not recognize the child as yours legally. This means that the child has no natural rights to inherit from your estate and that your rights to custody and visitation could be in jeopardy in the event of a divorce.
A stepparent adoption can add a level of security to this relationship. Once it is approved by the court, the child is then considered legally your own. Under New Jersey Court guidelines, this involves the following:
- Filing an action seeking approval of adoption;
- Providing evidence that the other parent has no contact with the child or has surrendered parental rights;
- Providing a statement from your spouse (the child’s biological parent) that they consent to the adoption;
- Submitting to background checks and possibly a home inspection before the adoption is approved.
In cases in which a stepchild is no longer a minor, there are still important estate planning benefits in seeking an adoption that make it worthwhile, in addition to the emotional benefits you both receive. In this situation, the legal process tends to be less complex, as well.
Stepparent Rights in Divorce
If you have not gone through the legal process of adopting your stepchild and you and the biological parent do end up seeking divorce, you may be surprised to find that your rights in these proceedings are severely limited. While the New Jersey statutes do provide visitation rights for grandparents and siblings, it does not specifically address your situation.
However, a 2014 New Jersey child custody case does offer a precedent for affording rights to stepparents. In K.A.F. v. D.L.M., the court recognized that it is in the best interests of the child to maintain a relationship with a ‘psychological parent,’ even if that parent is not related by blood. While the 2014 case involved a same sex couple who were ending a civil union, the issues raised may be used the defend the rights of a stepparent in other types of child custody cases.
Get Legal Guidance From Our New Jersey Family Law Attorney
At the Law Office of Jordan B. Rickards, Esq., we provide the legal guidance you need to protect your rights as a stepparent, either through adoption or by asserting prior court rulings in child custody proceedings. To discuss your situation and how we can help, call or contact our Milltown child custody attorney online today.