By: Kyli L. Willis September 2014
Step-parents adoptions are becoming increasingly common in Indiana. A step-parent may want to adopt a child for many reasons. Maybe the child's other biological parent has not visited with or supported the child in a significant period of time. Often times the child has grown very attached to the step-parent and identify that person as more than a step-parent. For many families, step-parent adoption solidifies for the parents and child that they are a solid, familial unit.
Indiana law outlines the procedures necessary to secure a step-parent adoption. The step-parent seeking to adopt must file a petition in the county where the family resides. The spouse's consent should accompany the petition. The statutory provisions are complex, but as a general rule, notice to the birth parent of the proposed adoption is required. In cases where the whereabouts of the birth parent are unknown, this often results in publication of the notice in a newspaper. When the birth parent can be located and consents to the adoption, such written consent must be filed with the court.
When the birth parent does not consent, the Court will hold a contested hearing and allow the parties to present evidence on whether the adoption is in the child's best interest and whether the birth parent's consent is necessary. The law sets out several specific instances where consent is not required. Those include cases where the parent has abandoned the child for at least six months and where, for at least one year, the parent failed without justifiable cause to communicate significantly with the child or knowingly failed to support the child when required to do so. Consent can also be dispensed with when there is clear and convincing evidence that the birth parent is unfit. If the petitioner can show that the birth parent has made only token efforts to support or communicate with the child, the court may declare the child abandoned and find that consent is not necessary. The petitioner will be required to present evidence at the contested hearing of any reasons why the court should not require the birth parent's consent in order to grant the adoption.
In order to issue an adoption decree, the Court must find that proper notice was given, that all necessary consents were provided or there was sufficient evidence that consent was not necessary, that the adoption is in the child's best interest, that the petitioner is of sufficient ability to raise the child and provide suitable support and education, and that the petitioner is not prohibited from adopting due to certain criminal history. If these and other procedural requirements are met, the court will grant the petition and issue the adoption decree. If the petition for adoption included a request for the child's name to be changed, that change is effective at the time the decree is entered and the family can obtain a new birth certificate for the child. At the time the decree is issued, the birth parent's rights are effectively terminated and the step-parent becomes the child's parent for all purposes. The birth parent will no longer be required to pay child support but is still obligated on any arrearage owed.
If you are interested in seeking a stepparent adoption, please contact one of our family law practitioners at (317) 462-3455 for a consultation to discuss your case.