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What to know about step-parent adoption in Tennessee

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2024 | Adoption

As a step-parent, you can play a powerful role in your step-child’s life. In fact, you might be so involved with them that they feel like your natural child. But unless you take action to adopt your step-child, you’re left without the legal protections afforded to biological parents.

If something were to happen to your spouse, you would be extremely limited in your ability to keep the child in your care if their other parent seeks custody. Without adoption you’re also limited in your capacity to make medical decisions for your step-child. There’s a host of other limitations that you might experience as a step-parent, which is why you might want to consider adoption sooner rather than later.

Before you can adopt your step-child, the other biological parent’s consent to the adoption must be dealt with. In some instances, the biological parent consents to the adoption, making it as easy as securing their signature on consent paperwork. In other circumstances, though, the other parent contests the adoption.

When this happens, the burden is on you and your spouse to show that there’s sufficient grounds for terminating the other parent’s parental rights. This can be accomplished by demonstrating any of the following:

  • The child has been abandoned for a certain period of time: A parent’s rights can be dispensed with if it can be shown that for a period of at least four consecutive months they’ve failed to visit with or financially support the child. Mere token support is inadequate to avoid an abandonment finding.
  • Failure to participate in a child abuse or neglect case: If the child was subjected to child abuse or neglect proceedings in a juvenile court and the parent failed to adequately participate, then the court may find that their consent to the adoption is unnecessary.
  • The parent is incarcerated for a certain period of time: In some instances, a parent’s incarceration can be sufficient evidence to show that their consent to the adoption is not required. To be successful here, though, you have to show that the parent has been incarcerated during the four months preceding the adoption petition or that their incarceration is due to wanton disregard for the child’s safety.
  • The other parent has failed to support the mother prior to the child’s birth: A parent’s rights can be terminated if it can be shown that they failed to visit with or support the child’s mother for four months leading up to the birth of the child, so long as the adoption petition isn’t filed less than 30 days after the child’s birth.
  • The other parent is mentally incompetent: If the other parent suffers from a mental health condition that prevents them from acting as a safe and suitable parent, then termination of their parental rights might be appropriate.

There are other grounds for termination of parental rights, and each of them carries with it legal nuances that you have to be prepared to tackle. So, make sure you understand the law and what you have to prove in your case before you can dispense with parental consent and can finalize your step-parent adoption.

Even though a step-parent adoption can seem straightforward on its face, it can wind up being more complicated than anticipated. With that in mind, thorough preparation is key. So, if you’re ready to finally adopt your step-child, then now is the time to get to work building the proper legal arguments needed to secure the outcome you want.