UNCONTESTED STEPPARENT ADOPTION
Note: This page is not intended as legal advice. It expresses general principles about Tennessee law as it stands in mid-December 2016. The laws relating to domestic relations change regularly in Tennessee. You should contact an attorney to get advice about your specific situation under the law as it exists at the time your situation arises. You are invited to make an appointment with Ms. Holyfield to discuss the specifics of your situation.
What is adoption?
In Tennessee, the process of adoption creates the legal relationship of parent and child between two people who did not have that relationship prior to the adoption. After the adoption is finalized, an adopted child has all the same legal rights as he or she would have had if he or she had actually been born to the adoptive parent and the adoptive parent has all the same legal rights and responsibilities that a birth parent would have.
What is a stepparent adoption?
In Tennessee, if a child's mother or father later marries someone besides the other parent, the new stepparent (stepmother or stepfather) may be able to adopt the child.
What makes a stepparent adoption uncontested?
In our office, the definition of an "uncontested adoption" is one in which the other biological parent does not fight against the adoption. The following are some of the most common situations in which an adoption may be uncontested:
- The other biological parent agrees to the adoption.
- The other biological parent is deceased.
- The other biological parent has already had his or her rights terminated by a court, for abuse or some other reason.
Why should we consider a stepparent adoption?
Many stepparents view their stepchildren as their "real children" and want to make it official legally. Adoption not only establishes the legal relationship of parent and child between the stepparent and the child; it also allows the child's name to be changed to match the other members of the family, which can be meaningful for the child.
Further, in a divorce, a stepparent who has adopted his or her stepchild will be treated like any other legal parent of a child. That means that he or she will have a right to custody and/or parenting time with the child and will have a duty to support and nurture the child.
In Tennessee, if one parent dies, it is extremely likely that the surviving parent will get custody of the child after his or her death. If the surviving parent is not involved in the child's life, this can be very traumatic. A power of attorney or a will usually cannot change this reality.
It's also common these days for parents to have joint decisionmaking rights for their children. While it seems like a good thing, and it usually is, joint decisionmaking can be frustrating for stepfamilies that want to move away from the other biological parent or make different choices for their children (for instance, homeschooling). This is particularly true when the other biological parent is not very involved and withholds his or her consent to the other parent's requests solely out of spite.
Also, in Tennessee, adopted children inherit from their adoptive parents just like biological children do. Therefore, many stepparents who want to ensure that their stepchildren are treated equally by the law will find adoption desirable.
Why in the world would the other biological parent ever agree to have his or her rights terminated to let a stepparent adopt his or her child?
There are many possible reasons.
The first, and most common, is that a parent whose rights are terminated for adoption will no longer owe child support past the date of the adoption, although the parents can still collect on any child support arrearage that was owed before the child was adopted. As an example, Alice and Bob have a child, Chris. Alice then marries Dan.
Bob is ordered by the court to pay $500 a month in child support for Chris. At the time of the adoption, Bob owes $10,000 in back child support to Alice for the benefit of Chris. Dan adopts Chris with Bob's permission.
Bob will still owe the $10,000 and will still have to make monthly payments toward that balance owed, but the $500 per month will stop accruing into the future. If Chris is 8 years old at the time of the adoption, this will save Bob about $60,000 (excluding interest) over the remaining 10 years until child support would have terminated normally.
Another reason some biological parents agree to termination of their rights for a stepparent adoption is that they legitimately believe that it is the best thing for the child. This is similar to the decisionmaking of parents who place their children for non-relative adoption at birth. They are thinking of the child rather than of themselves.
Parents who may feel this way include parents who know adoption is what the child wants, parents who have no involvement in the child's life and believe that every child deserves two involved parents, parents who know they are not capable of parenting due to issues they are having in life (criminal activity, drug addiction, etc.), and parents who would never want to be responsible for custody of a child if the other parent were to pass away due to life circumstances.
How much does an uncontested stepparent adoption cost?
In our office, uncontested stepparent adoptions are handled on a flat-fee basis. That means that you pay a certain amount at the beginning of the case and you know that is all you are going to owe. There are no surprises or additional unexpected fees, and you are not billed hourly for telephone calls or emails.
The amount of the flat fee varies based on the circumstances of each case, the number of children being adopted, and the number of other biological parents involved. For instance, a stepfather adopting his wife's three children, who have two different fathers, would be more complex (and therefore more expensive) than a stepmother adopting one child of her husband's, when the biological mother is deceased.