When individuals think about family law matters, few realize that stepparent adoptions can be one of the most contentious family law cases out there. On the surface level, many may wonder why? They might view adoption as almost always a positive.
However, in some stepparent adoptions, there can be a biological parent pitted directly against a stepparent. In other words, there can be a stepparent who wants to adopt, while there is a biological parent who vehemently does not want their rights terminated.
A typical scenario can generally play out in this scenario. If a mother or father has sole physical and legal custody, they might get remarried. Their new spouse might develop a strong bond with the child that is not their own biologically.
Meanwhile, the biological parent may still have a fairly strong relationship or maybe not a strong one at all. They might see the child periodically, but perhaps they do not exercise all of their regular visitation. Similarly, the biological parent may help the child financially, but the financial help might not be regular or consistent.
In some states, where a biological parents lack of contact or financial support reaches the level of neglect or even abuse, the stepparent might seek to adopt the child. In other words, they want to stand in the place of the biological parent in a legal sense.
If they succeed in the stepparent adoption, the reality is that the biological parent’s parental rights end up being terminated. That means that will no longer have any physical or legal custody rights to their child on a permanent basis. In other words, until the child becomes an adult and can make a decision to see their biological parent, all contact with the biological parent can be severed.
These can be tough cases for courts to consider. On one hand, some biological parents maybe can or should have done better in terms of seeing and/or supporting their child. But when is it so bad that the best interests of the child are served by a stepparent adoption where the biological parent’s parental rights are terminated forever?
In some cases, it might be in the child’s best interests where the biological parent is never going to do better — and where the child thinks of their stepparent as their biological parent. In other instances, a permanent termination of the biological parent’s parental rights might be harsh and might not serve the child’s best interests.
It might be that the biological parent simply needs a wake-up call, but their rights should not be terminated. One might also imagine scenarios where a child could be better off by having a great stepparent in their life, but while also having their biological parent in their life as well.
This is why stepparent adoptions can be hotly contested cases. It is also true that these can be some of the most difficult cases a family court might face. The line is often blurry and not clear. Emotions can also run high when a parent may lose their rights. In the end, one may view stepparent adoptions as the death penalty cases of family law.