Stepparent adoption lets a custodial parent’s spouse adopt the parent’s child. It can be done if you and your child’s other parent are divorced or if you were never married. The other parent’s spouse files a Petition for Adoption and other forms to start the process. You must be served with a copy of the petition and notified of when and where the hearing will be.
Stepparent adoption is permanent. If the judge approves it, you will lose all custody and parenting time rights. You won’t have to pay child support or have any other responsibilities for your child. The stepparent is the new legal parent, even if they divorce your child’s other parent in the future.
Your parental rights must be terminated before the judge approves a stepparent adoption. For this to happen, you must either:
Agree to have your parental rights voluntarily terminated or
Have your parental rights involuntarily terminated by the judge
If You Agree to the Adoption
If you agree to the stepparent adoption, the process is fairly simple. You will sign the required forms in front of a judge or referee at a hearing. If you do this, you voluntarily give up all your parental rights to your child.
If You Don’t Agree to the Adoption
If you don’t agree to give up your parental rights, you may still have your rights involuntarily terminated. This means the judge can terminate your rights without your consent.
A judge can involuntarily terminate your parental rights for a stepparent adoption if all of the following are true:
The parent who is married to the stepparent petitioner has either sole or joint legal custody according to a court order;
You have substantially failed to support your child financially for two or more years;
You have substantially failed to visit or contact your child for two or more years; and
You had the ability to support your child and the ability to visit or contact your child during the two-year period.
The stepparent asking for the adoption must prove these three things are true by clear and convincing evidence.
If You Do Nothing
If you do not show up to the hearing, you risk having your parental rights terminated in your absence. If you want the judge to know whether you agree or disagree and why, attend the hearing.
When the Child is Over 14 Years Old
If your child is over 14 years old, they must also agree to the adoption. The child does this by signing a form called Consent to Adoption by Adoptee.
The Court Process
The Investigation and Report
After your child’s stepparent files his or her Petition for Adoption, the judge will order an employee of the court or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to investigate and write a report. The investigator may talk to you, your child’s other parent, and the stepparent. The investigator will write about:
Your child’s family background, including information about you, your child’s other parent, and the stepparent
Whether it is in your child’s best interests to be adopted
The investigator has three months after being appointed to file the report. The court hearing on the Petition for Adoption will take place no later than 14 days after the investigator files the report.
If you agree to the adoption, you must appear in court and sign the required consent forms. This is when you voluntarily give up all your parental rights to your child. The judge may ask you questions to make sure your consent is genuine. The judge may also ask your child’s other parent and their spouse questions to make sure the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interest. The judge may also consider the investigator’s report.
If you don’t agree to the adoption, there will be an evidentiary hearing in front of a judge or referee. You have the right to attend the hearing and tell the judge you don’t agree to the stepparent adoption. If you don’t voluntarily give up your parental rights, your child’s stepparent has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that termination of your parental rights is warranted. The judge may also consider the investigator’s report.
Objecting to a Stepparent Adoption
If you object to the Petition for Adoption, be prepared to show any evidence that you:
Have financially supported your child in the past two years; and/or
Have had contact with your child in the past two years
Or, if you haven’t had the ability to support your child or communicate with your child during the past two years, you will want to show the judge evidence of that.
Showing Financial Support
This could include your child support payment history, copies of cancelled checks, or other evidence of support from the past two years.
You can get a copy of your child support payment history online from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support. Another way to get your payment history is to call the Child Support Interactive Voice Response for your county. You can also ask your local Friend of the Court how you can request your payment history directly.
Showing Contact with Child
This could include lists of dates and times you visited or communicated with your child during the past two years. It could also include witnesses who know about the visits or contacts.
Showing Inability to Pay or Communicate
Examples of inability to support your child might be that you were very ill, or other reasons. It is important to tell the judge if your child’s other parent didn’t allow you to visit or communicate with your child during the past two years. Be prepared to explain how you tried but were unable to visit or communicate with your child.
If there is a support order requiring you to pay child support, the judge will presume that you had the ability to support your child. This is because your ability to pay was factored into the support order.
Finding a Lawyer
You might decide you want a lawyer to help you. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.