We deal with many family transitions in our law office, but one of the most joyful in which we get to take part is the creation of a new family through stepparent adoption. Many of our clients are part of a blended family in which the stepparent has become a true parent in every way but legally, and they are ready to take that final step. We regularly receive calls asking, "How does stepparent adoption work in Minnesota?"
There are three basic steps in a stepparent adoption: terminating the biological parent's parental rights, filing of a petition for adoption and related paperwork, and a court hearing to finalize the adoption.
Most of the time, termination of the biological parent's status is voluntary. The biological parent who is agreeing to have their parental rights terminated must sign a consent form stating that they are giving up their parental rights of their own free will. The form must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public or court administrator. The biological parent has 10 business days after signing the consent to revoke the consent if they change their mind. If the child to be adopted is over the age of 14, the child must also sign a consent stating their willingness to be adopted.
In those situations where a biological parent has not consented to adoption, their parental rights must be terminated by a court (if they were not previously terminated). The parent seeking to have the child adopted by a stepparent will need to petition the court for an involuntary termination and give notice to the biological parent. This is a separate filing as a juvenile matter and the County Attorney's office has to receive notification.
Granting consent to an adoption does not automatically terminate a biological parent's parental rights, but allows them to be terminated upon the adoption. You could, in theory, consent to the adoption of your child by a stepparent, but remain responsible for child support payments up until the time that the adoption actually takes place.
After the biological parent consents to the adoption of the child by a stepparent, the parent seeking to have the stepparent adopt must file a petition for stepparent adoption. In order to adopt, it is required that there be a post-placement assessment and that the stepparent seeking to adopt has been a resident of Minnesota for at least a year. However, the court can waive these requirements if the parent keeping custody and the stepparent (usually a spouse), file a motion with an affidavit supporting their position that the requirements be waived.
The final step in the process is the sweetest: the biological parent who is retaining custody, the adopting stepparent, and the child being adopted appear in court before a judge. The judge will ask them a few questions to confirm their intent and understanding of what is happening, and then will finalize the adoption. When the certificate of adoption is signed, the stepparent is the legal parent of the child, as is the biological parent to whom they are married. Legally speaking, it is now just as if the child had been born to them both. All parental rights of the other biological parent are terminated.
Another question we often hear is, "Can same-sex stepparents adopt in Minnesota?" The answer is not only that they can, but that they really should. Even if the couple is married before the birth of the child, and the non-biological parent is listed on the birth certificate, that does not establish a legal relationship between the non-biological parent and the child. Many people are shocked to learn this!
In order to guarantee a legal parent-child relationship between the non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship and the child, a stepparent adoption is strongly recommended. This protects the child, who now has two legal parents who can care for him or her. It protects the non-biological parent, who otherwise would have no legal right to make decisions for the child or to have parenting time or custody if the biological parent died. But it also protects the biological parent. If the parents should divorce or separate, the biological parent could only seek child support from the non-biological parent if they were also a legal parent—if they had adopted the child.
Whether a couple is opposite-sex or same sex, if they are living as a family and want to be treated as a family under the law, they should consider adoption. Stepparent adoption in Minnesota is the best way to protect everyone's rights, clarify everyone's responsibilities, and ensure that the family you have created is protected by law. If you have questions about how to initiate the stepparent adoption process, we invite you to contact our law office.
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