Stepparents generally have few or no legal rights or responsibilities when it comes to their stepchildren. In some cases where a stepparent is the only mother or father the child has known, however, or where the family wishes to make the bond of family “official,” adoption of the child by the stepparent may be possible. Here are five things to know about stepparent adoption in North Carolina:
1. A stepparent who adopts agrees to become the legal parent of the spouse’s child, and to assume all the rights and responsibilities that the child’s biological parent would have. Adoption is for life, even if the adoptive parent and biological parent divorce.
2. Consent must be given by: (1) the parent who is the stepparent’s spouse; (2) the parent who is not the stepparent’s spouse (if necessary); (3) a guardian of the minor child; and (4) the minor child if 12 or older.
3. In order to file the petition for stepparent adoption, the child needs to have lived primarily with the stepparent for at least 6 months immediately before filing.
4. The stepparent who adopts must be legally married to the parent who has legal and physical custody of the child.
5. The parties in a stepparent adoption may agree to release past due child support payments and attach the agreement to the adoption petition. Otherwise, even a parent who has consented to adoption by a stepparent, continues to owe any past-due child support.
Thanks in large part to the internet and social media, many of us have the experience today of keeping up with the adoption journeys of friends and family members all over the country. Like many other family law issues, however, adoption laws and practices vary from state to state. So people often wonder what types of adoption are available to us in North Carolina. There are a number of adoption options available, but the most common types of adoption in NC are private and agency adoptions.
Private adoptions in NC involve placing the child directly from the biological parent(s) (or other placing party) to the adoptive parent(s). In a private placement, the biological parent will receive a copy of the adoptive parent’s preplacement assessment (home study). Thus the biological parent will know the adoptive parent’s identity and the detailed information contained in the preplacement assessment. Private adoptions can take place within North Carolina or between states. In an interstate adoption, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children sets out further requirements that the parties must meet.
An “adoption facilitator” is a person or non-profit entity that assists biological parents in locating and evaluating prospective adoptive parents. These facilitators are not licensed in North Carolina and may not charge the biological parents for their services. Placements that are assisted by an adoption facilitator are generally private placements.
An agency is an entity that is “licensed or otherwise authorized by the law of the jurisdiction where it operates to place minors for adoption.” N.C.G.S. § 48-1-101(4). A county’s Department of Social Services also qualifies as an agency under this statute. In an agency adoption, the agency places the child with the adoptive parent, and the adoption may be either open (identities of the biological and adoptive parents are disclosed) or closed. Agency adoptions can occur within North Carolina, between states, or internationally.
International adoption is another option for North Carolina families. Usually the adoption is finalized in the country where the child is a citizen, and it may be refinalized after the family returns to North Carolina in order to obtain an NC foreign birth certificate. International adoptions require compliance with the laws of the child’s country of origin, as well as immigration laws and the laws of North Carolina. International adoptions are typically the most expensive to pursue.
There are several other types of adoption available in North Carolina, such as stepparent adoption and surrogacy. There are many resources online to help you start researching what type adoption would best fit your family. Check out NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network, this list of agencies licensed in NC, and state statutes on adoption and child welfare to get started.