Gather round, children, and Ol’ Grandpa Jason will read to y’all from the Code of Virginia. Doesn’t that sound nice? What? You want to hear the story again of how your stepfather adopted the lot of ya? Well, sure! But don’t y’all be nodding off now, just before I get to the good part.
Why a Step? The Origin of Stepparents
Stepfathers and stepmothers can have stepdaughters and stepsons, and together they can have stepfamilies. Yet these words started with a have-not, not a have. The words stem from Old English “astepan,” meaning “to deprive or bereave,” because a steopcild — a stepchild— lost a parent to death. The new stepmother or stepfather filled the enormous, emotional hole in the child’s life.
Today stepparents can slide into a family through divorce, so the birth mother or birth father could still be around, just not … you know, around.
Because few of us are scholars of Old English, people today often have the wrongheaded idea that a stepparent is a “step away” from a real parent. Not at all. A stepparent rises into the same honored position that the original parent fulfilled. When you consider the profound loss that hides behind the origin of the term, any stepparent today should feel thrilled to help make a child’s life whole again. Adopting your stepchild, or stepchildren, is one way to do that.
Stepparent Adoption in Virginia
Too many children in America are waiting for adoption. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, 111,820 children were waiting to be adopted in 2015.
Children already living with stepparents and a birth parent are exceedingly lucky; many children have no relative to care for them. In a divorced family, a child may have both a birth parent and a stepparent, which is a double blessing in a way. If friction exists between the estranged birth parent and you as the stepfather, though, you will feel yourself diminished. Your stepchild’s feelings may be hurt, too, by the tension.
What are a Stepfather’s Rights?
Regarding the stepchildren you provide for, shelter, and love, you as a stepfather have no legal rights.
Ouch. You do have an upside to being a stepfather; you have no legal responsibilities for the children of the woman you married. You may feel an emotional responsibility, but legally, she makes all the decisions (or shares those decisions with the birth father).
The Stepparent Adoption Process
Adoption gives you many of those rights and allows you to take on the responsibilities. A stepparent quickly becomes Mom or Dad to the stepchild, but the strength of the bond between Dad and daughter or son becomes stronger with adoption.
For you to become the adoptive parent to your stepchildren, you need to sort out the exact nature of your situation:
- The birth father of the children in your care will consent to your adoption
- The children in your care have a birth mother (your new spouse) but no surviving father
- The whereabouts of the estranged father — we’ll call him Skip Townes — are unknown
- The children in your care have a birth mother with sole legal and physical custody of the children and an estranged birth father who will fight your adoption
In the first two cases, the adoption will proceed quickly under Code of Virginia § 63.2-1241, Stepparent Adoption. You hire a family law attorney to file a notice of adoption with the circuit court with jurisdiction over the county in which you (or the children) reside. Your attorney gets Skip Townes to give his consent in writing for you to adopt his children (in the first instance) or produces a death certificate (in the second instance).
What if the Birth Father’s Location is Unknown?
When Skip Townes has hightailed it out of Virginia, or is holed up and nowhere to be seen, a publication of intent to adopt is required. A notice will be put in newspapers indicating the pending adoption, allowing time for Skip Townes to come forward and object.
Your attorney will shepherd you through all these steps, including the waiting game you must play while Skip Townes either learns to read or decides to let the matter drop.
Fight for Your Kids
In the last instance, in which the biological father opposes your adoption of his offspring, the court will review the case and determine what is in the best interests of the children. That review could include a home study of your residence (where the stepchildren live with your spouse, their mother) and the biological father’s residence.
Such an investigation could also reveal that the biological father is simply withholding consent as a weapon; the court frowns on that. A study could also reveal that continued contact with the birth father is detrimental to the children. Since the overriding concern is what is best for the children, you will likely prevail.
What If the Biological Father Has No Contact with the Children?
If the biological father has had no contact with his own kids in the six months before you filed your petition for adoption, his consent is waived. He is considered to have given up his parental rights through his indifference. You can proceed without delay, delivering happiness and wholeness to your new family.
Judging by your drooping little eyelids, it looks like Ol’ Grandpa Jason is about ready to close another chapter in the Code of Virginia and send y’all off to bed. Be sure to give your stepdad a hug, now, ya hear?
At The Firm For Men we can join you in your fight to adopt your stepchildren. Contact us or call 757-383-9184 today to learn how we have helped many stepfathers before you become fathers in the truest sense of the word. No bedtime stories; just years of legal expertise.