How do you adopt your step-child in North Carolina?

| Feb 1, 2021 | Family Law

Here in North Carolina, there are plenty of opportunities for adoption. One of the most common situations where people choose to adopt is when it would benefit their step-child. Under the right circumstances, step-parent adoption can be a loving and meaningful thing to do.

When you adopt a child, you are naming that child your legitimate offspring for all time. They have the permanent right to your support. They are eligible to inherit from you. You have the authority to make important decisions for the child in areas like schooling, medical care, and religion. Adoption is permanent and will not be ended even if you divorce your spouse.

The adoption of minor step-children is authorized by North Carolina statute. In order to be eligible to adopt your step-child, the step-child’s other parent (your spouse’s ex) must have no legal claim to the child:

  • Your spouse has both legal and physical custody of the child, and the child has lived primarily with you and your spouse for the preceding six months
  • Your spouse’s ex had legal and physical custody but is either deceased or has been adjudicated incompetent, and the child has lived primarily with you and your spouse for the preceding six months
  • The other biological parent consents to the adoption or their parental rights have previously been terminated by the Court
  • There is another good reason the courts accept to allow the adoption

In general, if your step-child is 12 or older, he or she must consent to the adoption. The process is somewhat different if your step-child is 18 or older or is an emancipated minor.

What is the process for step-parent adoption?

In order to adopt your step-child, you will need to file a petition with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where you live or where the child lives. This initiates a “special proceeding” with the court. There is a filing fee of $120 per child.

Upon receiving your petition, the court clerk can set a date for a hearing depending on the facts of your case. The court clerk will tell you if a hearing is necessary in your case. In some cases, the clerk may simply hold a formal ceremony for the purpose of signing the adoption order.

The court might require a “preplacement assessment” or “home study” to determine if you are a suitable adoptive parent. This is performed by the county department of social services or a licensed child placement agency. No home study is required to adopt an adult or emancipated minor or if you and the stepparent have resided together for more than two years. The pre-placement assessment can be waived on the proper motion.

Assuming you pass any required preplacement assessment, and everything goes well at any hearing, your adoption of your step-child will be approved. Once the clerk of the court enters an adoption decree, you will receive a letter explaining how to get a new birth certificate for your adoptee that lists you as the parent.

If you are interested in adopting a step-child, you should get solid legal advice from a local attorney. While an attorney is not technically required, the adoption process can be somewhat complicated. It’s a good idea to work with an experienced adoption attorney who understands the process and can help you head off any problems.