Stepparent Adoption in California
How to Adopt a Stepchild in California
Since one of the child's birth parents remains with the child, a stepparent adoption typically is more simple than if you are adopting a child through an agency. California makes the process relatively straightforward by providing the forms you need along with instructions to fill them out online. After a social worker completes and investigation and files their report, all you have left is a hearing before a judge.
Filing Your Adoption Request
Complete the appropriate court forms.There are 3 forms you must fill out to adopt a stepchild in California. These forms are available from your local courthouse, or you can download them online. The forms are uniform statewide.
- Form ADOPT-050-INFO, available at , provides information on how to adopt a child in California.
- Form ADOPT-200, available at , is your adoption request form. It tells the judge about you and the child you want to adopt.
- Form ADOPT-210, available at , is your adoption agreement. It tells the judge that you and the child agree to the adoption. This is necessary if the child is over the age of 12. Fill this form out, but don't sign it until you are in the judge's presence.
- Form ADOPT-215, available at , is the adoption order. The judge will sign this if they approve the adoption.
Have a professional review your forms.California courts have family law facilitators and self-help centers where you can have an attorney or legal specialist look over your forms. These services are offered free of charge.
- Call the self-help center in your county's courthouse and ask if they help with stepparent adoptions. You may need to make an appointment for someone to review your paperwork.
Take your forms to the court clerk's office.When you're satisfied with your paperwork, make 2 copies of everything and take them to the clerk's office to file. You'll have to pay a filing fee, typically a few hundred dollars.
- If you can't afford the filing fee, ask the clerk for an application for a fee waiver.
- You may want to call ahead and find out the exact amount of the fee and what methods of payment are accepted.
- When filing is complete, the clerk will keep the originals for the court's records and give you back the 2 copies. One set of copies is for your own records, the other you must have served on the non-custodial parent.
Serve the non-custodial parent with the adoption forms.You must provide the non-custodial parent with notice that you are adopting their child. Generally, you'll hire a sheriff's deputy or private process server to deliver the documents to them.
- If you don't have a good address for the non-custodial parent or any idea how to locate them, you can provide them with notice by publishing a legal advertisement in a newspaper of record. If you have a hard time finding the non-custodial parent, you may want to get an attorney to help you.
Getting Consent from the Non-Custodial Parent
Request voluntary consent from the non-custodial parent.The courts have a voluntary consent form you can send to the non-custodial parent along with the adoption papers. The non-custodial parent must consent to the adoption before the judge will order it.
- The non-custodial parent only has to sign the consent form and send it back. They don't have to appear in court if they don't want to.
- When a non-custodial parent consents to your adoption of the child, they lose parental rights. They no longer have to pay child support, and no longer have the right to visitation. This doesn't mean they can no longer be in the child's life, if they have a good relationship. You are free to work out whatever arrangements work best for the family and the child.
Consult an attorney if you can't get consent.Stepparent adoptions typically are simple proceedings you can handle on your own without legal representation. However, the process becomes more complex if the non-custodial parent refuses to consent to the adoption.
- Without voluntary consent, you'll have to go through the process of having a judge terminate their parental rights. This can be emotionally difficult as well.
- Look for an experienced family law attorney who has handled cases similar to yours. If you can't afford an attorney, check with your local legal aid office to find out what free and low-cost legal assistance is available.
File a petition to terminate parental rights.Before you can adopt your stepchild, the court must remove the parental rights of the non-custodial parent. There are two types of petitions available, depending on whether the non-custodial parent is the mother or father of the child.
- If you've decided not to hire an attorney, you can get forms at the self-help center in your county courthouse. You may also be able to download them from the court's website.
- If the non-custodial parent is the mother, you want an Abandonment Petition. If the non-custodial parent is the father, you need a Termination Petition.
- You'll have to pay a filing fee when you file the petition, unless you're eligible for a fee waiver. Bring 3 copies of all documents you file.
Have the non-custodial parent served with the petition.Just as with the adoption paperwork, you must have a sheriff's deputy or private process server deliver the petition. A summons will accompany the petition, demanding the non-custodial parent answer the petition.
- If you can't locate the non-custodial parent, you may need to take additional steps to provide them with enough notice. Talk to an attorney about how to provide "constructive notice" through newspaper advertisements.
Attend the hearing on your petition.Once your petition is filed, the court clerk will schedule a hearing. The judge will hear from both you and the non-custodial parent, as well as any witnesses. The judge will then decide whether to terminate the non-custodial parent's parental rights so the adoption can go forward.
- If the non-custodial parent doesn't attend the hearing, you win by default. The judge will terminate their parental rights.
- Termination of parental rights does not mean the adoption is complete, or that the judge will approve the adoption.
Working with Social Services
Contact the Social Services office in your county.A social worker in your local Social Services office is responsible for approving you as an adoptive parent of your stepchild. This is required even if the child has been living with you for a while.
- Some Social Services offices may have additional paperwork you need to fill out to request a home visit. You can find this out by calling or stopping by the office.
- You'll also typically have to pay a fee for the social worker's investigation. The fee is usually a few hundred dollars. Ask when you call ahead, as well as finding out what methods of payment are accepted.
Participate in your home visit and investigation.The social worker will visit your home and interview everyone who lives there, including your stepchild. They will discuss adoption and your reasons for wanting to adopt your stepchild.
- The social worker will also conduct a thorough background check of you and the other adults in your family who will have frequent contact with the child.
- This investigation may not be as thorough as the home study process when you adopt a child through an agency, but you should still expect it to take a couple of months.
Receive your report from Social Services.Once the investigation is complete, the social worker will write up their findings in a report. They will file the report with the court where you filed your adoption paperwork.
- You'll get a file-stamped copy of the report in the mail. Read through the report carefully, and contact the social worker if you have any questions about any of the information in the report.
Call the clerk to schedule your adoption hearing.When you receive the social worker's report in the mail, you're ready for the last stage of adoption. The calendar or scheduling clerk at your county's courthouse will help you schedule your adoption hearing.
- The child is expected to attend the hearing, as well as you and the custodial parent. You may want to have other family members attend as well. Many families treat it as a festive occasion and celebrate afterwards.
Attending Your Hearing
Gather your paperwork.When you go to the courthouse for the adoption hearing, you'll need your copies of the forms you initially filed with the court. You also need your copy of the social worker's report and the consent form signed by the non-custodial parent.
- If the non-custodial parent did not voluntarily consent to the adoption and you had to file a petition to terminate their parental rights, bring along a copy of the decree the judge entered in that case.
Arrive at the courthouse on the day of your hearing.You, the child, and the child's custodial parent all need to be present for the hearing. Dress in clean, conservative clothing as though you were going to a religious service or a job interview. Arrive at least 20 minutes before the time of your hearing so you have time to go through courthouse security.
- Generally, you'll want to leave all electronic devices, including mobile phones, at home. If you want to bring your phone to make pictures with the judge after the proceeding, call ahead to the clerk's office and get permission for this.
- Adoption hearings are often cause for celebration. Other family members and friends are welcome to attend as well.
Find your courtroom.Once you get to the courthouse, go to the clerk's office to find out the courtroom where your hearing will be. They can direct you how to get there from the clerk's office. When you get to the courtroom, take a seat in the gallery.
- The judge will likely be holding several hearings. Wait patiently until your names are called, and then you can move to the front of the courtroom.
Answer the judge's questions.Once you're called to the front, the judge will ask you a series of questions based on your request to adopt your stepchild. Depending on the child's age, they may also question the child as well.
- If your stepchild is over the age of 7 or 8, talk to them before the hearing about how to answer questions from a judge. Make sure they know to always address the judge as "your honor" and not to speak or ask questions unless they are spoken to first.
Get copies of the signed decree.At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will sign the adoption order you prepared when you initially requested adoption. The clerk will enter this decree into the official records of the court and give you copies.
- At this point, the adoption is final and legally official. Within a few weeks, you will receive a new copy of the child's birth certificate in the mail that lists you as the child's official parent.
- If you were in a marriage or domestic partnership with the birth-parent at the time the child was born, and the two of you are still partners, you simply do a stepparent adoption to confirm parentage. You don't need an investigation and report from Social Services, and there won't be a court hearing.
Video: California Stepparent Adoption
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