Stepparent Adoption in New Jersey – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

It is a warm feeling – finding a partner who not only wishes to marry you but wishes to take on parental responsibility for your child from a previous marriage.  If you want to make your child’s relationship with the stepparent a formal and legal one, then what are the steps to do so?

The Somerville family law attorneys of Lyons & Associates can provide effective representation in a stepparent adoption case, if you find it necessary to get professional help.

The stepparent adoption process can be easy or full of conflict, mostly depending on the attitude of the child’s other birth parent.  Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about stepparent adoptions in New Jersey.

Don’t we just have to sign an adoption form?

No.  New Jersey law does not allow a child to have three parents.  Before a stepparent can adopt, the child’s other natural parent has to relinquish his or her parental rights through a formal legal process.

What are the steps to relinquish parental rights?

The process of termination of parental rights can happen voluntarily, or a parent’s parental rights can be terminated involuntarily in some circumstances.  If the child’s other birth parent agrees to the stepparent adoption, then he or she needs only to sign a legal form relinquishing his or her parental rights.

What does it mean to relinquish parental rights?

It means that the parent no longer has any rights or responsibilities with regard to the child.  He or she no longer has to pay child support, but neither does he or she have any right to visitation or parenting time with the child.  After relinquishing parental rights, he or she will also have no legal right to be consulted in any important decisions regarding the child.  Moreover, the child will have no rights as against that parent for things like inheritance or other monetary support.

How do we have parental rights terminated involuntarily?

New Jersey law states four grounds under which parental rights may be involuntarily terminated:

  • Best interests of the child: The parent has harmed or will continue to harm the child; the parent is unwilling or unable to end the harm or is unwilling or unable to provide a safe and permanent home for the child; and the child is being harmed because he or she does not have a permanent home (this ground is often used in child protection cases)
  • Parent failed to correct problems: The child was removed from the home a year ago but the parent has not corrected the problems identified by child protective services
  • Conviction of a crime: Conviction of a crime related to child abandonment, neglect or cruelty
  • Murder or grave bodily harm: Conviction of murder, aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter of any of the parent’s children; conviction of serious assault that resulted or could have resulted in serious bodily injury to any of the parent’s children

Read more about termination of parental rights in New Jersey in the handbook published by Legal Services of New Jersey.

Then what happens, after relinquishment of parental rights?

The stepparent must undergo a background check for child abuse or neglect issues.  There will be a short hearing, which the child must attend if he or she is 10 years old or older.  The hearing is often a celebratory experience.  Once the judge signs the adoption papers and they are filed with the clerk of the court, the stepparent becomes the child’s legal parent with all the joys, rights and responsibilities of the birth parent.

Contact Us for Answers to Questions About New Jersey Stepparent Adoptions

At Lyons & Associates, we bring a high level of personalized service and attention to each of our clients, in every family law case we handle. To schedule an appointment to discuss stepparent adoption, contact us online or call our office at 908-575-9777.