Families are created in many different ways. Adoption is a rewarding process that gives a child a stable and permanent home when a biological parent(s) cannot or will not for whatever reason. Whether you are adopting a child or putting your own child up for adoption, you may have questions about your financial rights and responsibilities.
Adoption represents an responsibility to a child. Once you legally adopt a child, you are responsible for the costs associated with their care. We are here to answer your questions about adoption and child support, including what happens if you remarry and your spouse adopts your child.
Adoption Terminates the Biological Parents’ Rights and Obligations
In the context of family law, child support is a non-custodial parent’s financial obligation to a child until that child reaches the age of 18. If that child is adopted, the biological parents’ legal and financial responsibilities for that child are terminated fully and permanently.
When a child is adopted, the adoptive parents assume full financial responsibility for the child, and any child support paid by a non-custodial parent to that point would end. That is why it is so important for potential adopters to consider the financial implications of adoption to ensure they have the means to provide for the child.
Fortunately, in the state of New Jersey, resources are available to ease that financial obligation and help make the dream of adoption more accessible for children and parents alike. More on those services below.
When a Custodial Parent Remarries: Special Considerations for Stepparent Adoption
Stepparent adoption is one scenario that creates some confusion for families where the child receives child support.
If your child’s non-custodial parent is uninvolved or unable to be an effective parent, and your new partner wants to adopt them, you should know adoption ends existing child support obligations.
Upon adoption, your spouse, the child’s stepparent, now has a financial obligation to the child. That obligation remains even if you and your spouse divorce in the future. As noted above, adoption is a permanent legal and financial obligation that does not end with divorce.
With that said, if your child’s other parent is behind on child support, they are still expected to pay outstanding payments even if they have terminated their parental rights.
Is Financial Assistance Available for Adoptive Parents?
Possibly. The New Jersey State Adoption Assistance Program provides information and resources for parents considering adopting a special needs child. This is welcome news to families where the costs of medical and psychological care and other services would otherwise be a barrier to adoption.
Subsidies may be available to offset those expenses and help children in need find permanent homes. And while the state requires certain criteria to be considered “special needs” the various circumstances that fall under that category are quite broad.
Children who may qualify for financial assistance with adoption include:
- Children aged 10 or older
- Children being placed with a sibling who is receiving a subsidy
- Children in certain ethnic/minority groups for who adoptive homes are not readily available
- Children with certain cognitive and/or physical conditions that require ongoing treatment
The list of conditions used to determine eligibility for financial subsidies for adopted children is extensive. For more information, or to see if your child qualifies for assistance, visit the Adoption Subsidy [SP1] page at the Department of Children and Families website.
Subsidies for adoptive families can include a one-time payment to cover the legal costs of adoption, Medicaid coverage for conditions not covered by the family’s insurance, and a monthly payment for clothing and other needs.
A Closer Look at Stepparent Adoption
Because stepparent adoption is one of the most common types of adoption in New Jersey, it is worth exploring a bit more.
Adoption of a stepchild is slightly different than adoptions that occur through the state’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) or a private adoption agency. Stepparent adoptions are used in a few different scenarios:
- When a biological parent dies, and their widower remarries
- To secure the parental rights of non-biological parents in an LGBTQ union
- When a non-custodial parent fails to care for, bond with, and provide for their child
Two things must occur before a stepparent adoption can take place. First the stepparent must be married to the child’s biological parent. Second, the non-custodial parent’s rights must be terminated.
Children over 12 also have a say in their adoption. In fact, in New Jersey they must give their written consent to the adoption, acknowledging they understand adoption means their other birth parent will no longer have a legal role in their life.
Terminating a Biological Parent’s Rights
A biological parent’s rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. In some cases, the parent is either incapable or unwilling to parent for whatever reason.
Voluntary Surrender of Parental Rights:
The DCCP provides a “Voluntary Surrender of Parental Rights Form” for this purpose. The form includes a series of questions to ensure the parent has considered the ramifications of giving up their parental rights and is doing so voluntarily and of sound mind.
Any parent considering this lifechanging step should consult with a family law attorney to ensure they fully grasp the magnitude of relinquishing their parental rights and considered all of their legal options.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights:
It is more common for a parent’s rights to be terminated involuntarily by court order. This happens if:
- The non-custodial parent cannot be located
- The non-custodial parent failed to comply with DCPP recommendations
- The non-custodial parent is convicted of abandonment, abuse, or neglect of a child
When a parent’s rights are terminated, they lose the legal right to custody and parenting time, and the right to make decisions for the child’s healthcare, education, and religion. Custodial parents cannot pursue child support from a non-custodial parent whose parental rights are terminated.
I Want to Adopt My Stepchild. What is the First Step?
New Jersey law requires both biological parents to consent to a stepparent adoption, unless one of the parents has abandoned the child and cannot be located. The stepparent must be at least 10 years older than the child to adopt them. (Because adoptions are completed on a case-by-case basis, some exceptions may apply.)
If you are pursuing the adoption of your partner’s child, the first step should be a meeting with a family law attorney. They can review your situation to determine if adoption is feasible based on the non-custodial parent’s involvement in the child’s life.
Some non-custodial parents object to stepparent adoption because they have no intention of surrendering their parental rights, but if they are unfit to parent or are not keeping up with their legal and financial responsibilities, they may have to prove their fitness to the courts. If that happens, the guidance of a skilled attorney will prove invaluable for the complex court proceedings involved in these cases.
Remember that when you adopt a stepchild, your obligation to the child remains in place until they turn 18—even if your marriage to their biological or custodial parent ends. Carefully consider all the emotional, financial, and legal responsibilities that come with raising a child before you pursue a permanent adoption.
Bridgewater Child Support Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Help Clients with Questions About Adoption and Child Support
Issues of support, custody, and visitation become more complicated when a biological parent remarries. If you are curious about stepparent adoption and how that impacts child support, call the Bridgewater child support lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We care deeply about the families we serve. To schedule a free consultation in our Morristown or Somerville offices, call 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Lyons & Associates represents clients in and around Somerset, Woodbridge, Chatham, Randolph, Morris Plains, Short Hills, Parsippany, Rockaway, and all of New Jersey and the nation.