In a day and age where a blended family is not far from the norm, it is common for some children to grow up only knowing a step-father or step-mother as the only father or mother in their life. Accordingly, step-parent adoptions are on the rise. While it is a serious and permanent decision once approved by the court, the following info should serve as a simple guide to see if step-parent adoption is for you.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.
Under Ohio law, a child can only be adopted when both biological parents consent. In rare cases this may be easy to obtain. But in most cases the "other" biological parent who will lose their parental privilege will not consent, and the adoption cannot take place.
However, there are two exceptions to the consent rule. If a biological parent has failed, without justification to: 1.) communicate with the child; or 2.) financially support the child for one year prior to filing the adoption petition, then that parent's consent is not required and the adoption can proceed. The petitioner must show by clear and convincing evidence the "other" parent failed one of the two exceptions above.
Adoption can be expensive. On top of attorney fees, the step-parent must pay to undergo a background check, pay for a home study done by a specialized "assessor," pay for filing fees, and pay for court costs at the final hearing. These costs can range from $2,000.00-$5,000.00 very quickly. Before making the decision to adopt and pursuing the adoption a step-parent would be wise to ensure either the natural parents consent, or the other natural parent falls within one of the two exceptions above to prevent a lost cause.
While each case is different and may differ in exact procedure from other adoptions, the adoption process begins when the petitioner files his petition with the probate court. Various information including the child's residence the past five years, the petitioner's personal information, and more is filed in this first round of paperwork. If the natural parents consent can be obtained it is filed here as well. Thereafter, the other parent is served via certified mail or publication and a pretrial is scheduled with the judge and the petitioner's attorney.
This pretrial conference is to ensure the judge becomes informed of the issues involved in the adoption, whether the consent of both parents will be required to move forward with the adoption, and whether all the correct information was supplied to the court during the petition state. Then a final hearing is scheduled where the petitioner must appear in court with the child to be adopted.
In the interim phase, the assessor undertakes a thorough home study and writes a detailed report to submit with the court. The petitioner may need to seek out letters of recommendation from his/her employer, friends, and/or clergy. The petitioner undergoes a background check and the results are mailed to the court.
At the final hearing the judge will review the information obtained from the home study, the background check, and the letters of recommendation. Also during this phase the petitioner, the child, and the petitioner's spouse will be interviewed by the judge. Ultimately, the court will consider the best interest of the child in making the determination.
Should the court grant the adoption it will issue a judgment entry or final decree. This is the golden ticket in adoption as it completely severs the other natural parent's legal right to visit the child. This also establishes a permanent relationship between the child and the petitioner that even extends after a divorce. The petitioner is substituted as the biological child's new parent on the child's birth certificate. Moreover, under Ohio law an adopted child is treated as a biological child for inheritance purposes and the same relationship is terminated between the original biological child and the new decreed parent.
If you or a loved one are interested in seeing if step-parent adoption is right for you contact our office for a consultation today. www.braunlawoffice.com or (513) 887-4560
Joseph M. Braun is an attorney in Hamilton, Ohio. He specializes in estate planning, probate, real estate, adoption law, and other general practice areas. You can connect with him by emailing: email@example.com or liking him on Facebook