Stepparent adoption in the Lone Star State

A stepparent petitioning the court to adopt a stepchild should be prepared to comply with every legal requirement, including a court investigation so the judge can be satisfied the adoption is in the child’s best interest.

The relationship between a stepparent and stepchild can be complicated, but it can also be an incredible bonus to a blended family for both parents and children. Even with the complexities that can come with a blended family, surprisingly often, the stepparent-child relationship has led naturally to the creation of a legal parent-child relationship through stepparent adoption.

This may evolve more naturally, and therefore be easier from a legal standpoint, if the biological parent that the stepparent would replace through adoption has not been involved with the child or has a history of detrimental behavior to the parent-child relationship.

Termination of parental rights

In Texas, before the stepparent adoption can be approved, a court must terminate the parental rights of the biological parent the stepparent will replace. Once rights are terminated, the former parent will have no right to participate in decision-making regarding the child or have any rights to possession or access to a child, nor will they have any duty to financially support the child. The biological parent could still be held liable for child support arrearages post-termination and even post-adoption, unless agreed otherwise.

Petition for stepparent adoption

The stepparent seeking adoption must file a petition with the court to adopt the stepchild and the biological parent to whom the stepparent is married must join in that petition. A name change request for the child may be part of the adoption petition.

Before the court can approve the stepparent adoption, the judge must determine that the adoption would be in the child's best interest. To gather relevant information, the court will order an evaluation or home study that looks at the quality of the home environment, the background of all parties, the marriage relationship, the blended family relationships and any red flags that the adoption could endanger the child in any way. The judge may also want a mental health professional to evaluate the child's relationship with the biological father or mother as well as the child's feelings about the stepparent.

The court will also consider the stepparent's criminal history.

A child at least 12 years old must consent to the stepparent adoption, but the court may waive this requirement if it would be in that child's best interest.

This is a complicated area of Texas law. An experienced family lawyer can provide information, guidance and representation to a stepparent considering an adoption of a stepchild.

When the new stepfamily is formed, one social worker quoted in the Huffington Post advises that for a healthy stepfamily, "[c]aring and respect are especially important, cannot be rushed, and are 'earned' or granted over time among all family members."

Attorney Lori Watson of the Law Office of Lori Watson in Georgetown, Texas, advises and represents stepparents considering adoption of their spouses' children.