Stepparent adoption is a court process that lets your spouse adopt your child after assuming a parenting role for the child. There is no set amount of time your spouse must be the stepparent before adoption.
Your spouse is the person who must file the forms asking for adoption, but you must agree to the adoption. A stepparent adoption may be possible whether you are divorced from your child’s other parent or if you were never married. If the other parent who is not your spouse agrees to the adoption, the court process will be simpler. If the other parent does not agree, it may be difficult to prove what the law requires in order for the judge to grant a stepparent adoption.
Stepparent adoption is permanent. If the judge allows the adoption, the other parent loses all custody and parenting time rights. The other parent won’t have to pay child support or have any other responsibilities for the child. Your spouse will be the new legal parent and will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent.
How to Start a Stepparent Adoption
Some courts require a marriage of at least one year before a Petition for Stepparent Adoption can be filed. This is not required by Michigan law, but may be required by local court rule.
Before starting, your spouse should gather the information needed to answer all the questions. This includes the addresses and Social Security numbers of the birth parents and the child, as well as any driver’s license numbers. Your spouse may also need some or all of the following documents:
Certified copy of birth certificate for all interested parties (birth parents, child, and your spouse)
Certified copy of your marriage certificate
Certified or true copies of all divorce decrees for the birth parents
Certified copy of your prior spouse’s death certificate, if applicable
Certified copy of any Affidavit of Parentage or Order of Filiation for the child
Certified copy of any child support order for minor children
Certified copies of guardianship orders, name change orders, prior adoption orders, or other order affecting a birth parent, stepparent, or adoptee
Certified copy of child support history from the county through which support was supposed to be paid
Your spouse can use the Do-It-Yourself Stepparent Adoption tool whether or not your child’s other parent agrees to the adoption. But if the other parent doesn’t agree, you and your spouse may want to talk to a lawyer. Stepparent adoption in this situation is not simple. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.
Termination of the Other Parent’s Parental Rights
The other parent’s parental rights must be terminated before the judge approves a stepparent adoption. For this to happen, the other parent must either:
Agree to have their parental rights voluntarily terminated or
Have their parental rights involuntarily terminated by the judge
If your child’s other parent agrees to the adoption, voluntary termination of his or her parental rights is part of the process. If your child’s other parent doesn’t agree, there will be a hearing where the judge will decide whether to terminate the other parent’s parental rights.
If the Other Parent Agrees to Adoption
Stepparent adoption is simplest if the other parent agrees to the adoption. The other parent must sign the required forms in front of a judge or referee.
If the Other Parent Doesn’t Agree
An involuntary termination of parental rights is serious. The judge will not take this decision lightly. As the petitioner, your spouse must prove by clear and convincing evidence that termination of parental rights is warranted. Parental rights can be terminated if all 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;
The other parent has substantially failed to support the child financially for two or more years;
The other parent has substantially failed to visit or contact the child for two or more years; and
The other parent had the ability to support the child and the ability to visit or contact the child during the two-year period (If there is a child support order, your spouse doesn’t have to prove the other parent had the ability to pay because ability to pay is factored into the support order.)
When the Child is Over 14 Years Old
If your child is over 14 years old, he or she must also agree to the adoption. The child does this by signing a form called Consent to Adoption by Adoptee. It is included in the forms you get after using the Do-It-Yourself Stepparent Adoption tool.
The Court Process
The Investigation and Report
After your spouse files a petition, 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 judge may consider the report when deciding whether to allow the adoption. The investigator will probably talk to you and your spouse to get information for the report. The investigator will write about:
Your child’s family background, including information about you, your spouse, and your child’s other parent; and
Whether it is in your child’s best interests to be adopted by your spouse
The investigator has three months after being appointed to file the report. The court hearing on your spouse’s petition will take place no later than 14 days after the investigator files the report.
If the other parent agrees to the adoption, they must appear in court and sign the required consent forms. This is when the other parent voluntarily gives up all his or her parental rights to the child. The judge may ask questions to make sure that the other parent’s consent to the adoption is genuine. The judge may ask you and your spouse questions to make sure the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interests. The judge may also consider the investigator’s report.
If the other parent does not agree to have their parental rights terminated, there will be an evidentiary hearing. Your spouse will want to present evidence to show that termination of parental rights is warranted. If you get to this stage in the case, you and your spouse may want to consider talking to a lawyer. Stepparent adoption in this situation is not simple. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.
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.