Second Parent vs. Stepparent Adoption

Second parent adoption

Adoption is a wonderful way to begin or grow your family, and there are many different types of adoption. One question that often comes up in discussions of adoption is, “What is second parent adoption? Is it the same thing as stepparent adoption?” (Okay, that’s two questions.)

Second parent adoption and stepparent adoption have the same broad goal: to formalize a parent-child relationship that exists between an adult and a child to whom they are not biologically related. The mechanics are somewhat different, as are the situations in which each type of adoption is appropriate. Let’s discuss the difference between second parent adoption and stepparent adoption

What is Second Parent Adoption?

Second parent adoption is most often used by same-sex couples in which only one of the partners is biologically related to the child they are raising together. In Minnesota, the non-biological parent can petition the court for the county in which the family lives to adopt the child of the biological parent. Typically in these adoptions, the second biological parent, a sperm donor or egg donor, has already relinquished any legal right to a child that results from their donation.

When a non-biological parent formally adopts their partner’s child, they have exactly the same legal rights as the biological parent. This is especially important in the event that the partners ever separate or divorce, because legal parenthood means that the non-biological parent will be able to ask for child custody or parenting time; they may also be obligated to pay child support

Even if the couple stays together forever, it’s still a good idea to pursue a second-parent adoption. Adoption means that others in the community, like schools and medical providers, will recognize the non-biological parent as the child’s legal parent. They will not be relegated to the status of second-class citizen, unable to communicate with their child’s teachers and medical providers. 

In addition, formalizing the parent-child relationship through adoption creates a sense of security and permanency for both parents and children. It is best to begin the second parent adoption process as soon as possible after a child’s birth. 

What is Stepparent Adoption?

As the name suggests, stepparent adoption involves the spouse of a parent adopting that parent’s child from a previous marriage or relationship. Like second parent adoption, stepparent adoption formalizes the parent-child relationship and creates rights and obligations. However, there are a few differences. 

In stepparent adoption, the child being adopted often has a second biological parent who must consent to the adoption and relinquish their parental rights, or who must have their parental rights terminated. Most of the time, the second biological parent consents to the adoption, but occasionally, they oppose it. In that case, the biological parent who is married to the stepparent will need to ask the court to terminate the other parent’s parental rights. This is obviously a more contentious process, and parents (both step- and biological) need to take care to protect children from any hostility. 

Stepparent adoptions are also different from second-parent adoptions in that they typically involve children who are older. While second parent adoptions are usually of babies or toddlers, the child in a stepparent adoption may be any age from baby to teenager. The child and stepparent may have known each other for years, and the adoption is a formality to make their legal relationship reflect their emotional one. In Minnesota, when a stepchild being adopted is over 14, the child must also consent to the adoption. 

Why is it Important to Adopt Your Spouse’s Child? 

As mentioned above, adoption creates a legal parent-child relationship, and all the legal rights and obligations that go along with it. An adoptive parent has standing to pursue custody and/or parenting time and may receive or pay child support. Adoptive parents and children also have the legal right to inherit from one another under the law, even if there is no will. Adopted children may also be entitled to government benefits, such as Social Security, through their adoptive parents. 

Stepparents may have stepped into the role of parent, but they usually understand the legal limits of their relationship to their stepchildren. The same may not be true of the non-biological parent in a same-sex couple. In at least one recent Idaho case, a non-biological parent in a lesbian couple was named as a “recipient” on a sperm donor agreement, was named as one of the child’s mothers on the birth certificate, and cared for the child as a parent. When the couple divorced, however, both the trial court and the Idaho Supreme Court found that the non-biological mother was not a legal parent. A second-parent adoption would have changed that outcome. 

Last but not least: adoption makes a family feel more like a real family, a benefit that is intangible but very real. If you are parenting a child who is not legally yours, but whom you love as if they were, protect that relationship through adoption. To learn more about adoption, contact Mundahl Law today to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Adoption