In Minnesota, the process of adopting the child of one’s spouse can be straightforward, even though there are many different steps, and parties, involved in this process.  Procedurally, the adoption can be complicated.  On its merits, the adoption is fairly simple.  What is necessary for a stepparent to adopt a child is a sincere belief that the adoption is in the child’s best interests, and a sincere desire to assume the responsibilities of being a parent, whether the step parent remains the spouse of the child’s parent, or not.

Typically, the need for a stepparent adoption will arise after that person has been married to the custodial parent of a child, and a parent-child relationship has formed; the natural result of living together as family over time.  A parent-child relationship is formed in practice; if not in law.  The irony is that even though a step parent is qualified to make important decisions about the child and is fully capable of providing care to the child, the law does not recognize the stepparent as having any rights to spend time with that child or to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.  This is unfortunate because the stepparent may be the person most qualified to exercise those rights.

A solution under these circumstances is to have the stepparent adopt the child, and thereby acquire the same rights as a biological parent to custody, parenting time, and property rights (including inheritance rights).  The process involves bringing a petition to adopt before the court of the county where the child and step parent are living, obtaining the formal, written consent of the biological parents of the child, and verifying that the step parent has no record of any violent crime or child maltreatment.

Obtaining the consent of the biological parent (who is not married to the step parent) can be a challenge. The biological parent’s whereabouts may not be known, or, that parent may refuse to give consent.  In those cases a step parent can ask the court to grant an adoption without the consent of the biological parent, if that parent has been absent from the child’s life and has ‘abandoned’ the child or in some cases the biological parent’s rights have been terminated in a separate court proceeding.  The burden is on the stepparent, though, to show that the biological parent has either consented to the adoption or that parent’s consent is not necessary.

Because an adoption has the effect of terminating parental rights of a biological parent, the step parent must always complete a search of the Minnesota Father’s Adoption Registry and provide the results of that search to the court.  The Father’s Adoption Registry is a list maintained by State of Minnesota of potential fathers who wish to be notified if they have a child whom they may have rights to, but do not know the whereabouts of the child.

Before an adoption may be granted, the step parent must show the court that a search of this registry was done, and that any potential father for the child to be adopted was notified of the adoption proceeding and had the opportunity to appear and object (or consent) to the adoption.

In addition to the search of the Adoption Registry, in all cases a step parent, must complete a background check for any record of a felony conviction or a determination of child maltreatment.  This process can be time-consuming, as it is necessary to involve the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Department of Human Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to search their records, and requires the subject of the background check to submit fingerprints so that the background check can be completed.

Once these steps are completed (consent(s), Father’s Adoption Registry search, background check), the Court will schedule a default (uncontested) hearing where the stepparent and the custodial parent appear (usually with the child although this is not required) and affirm under oath that they have completed the necessary steps to obtain an adoption and that the adoption is in the minor child’s best interests, and that the step parent accepts the responsibilities of becoming the child’s parent.  At this stage, adoption is granted and the child’s name can be changed to that of the stepparent.

Once the adoption is final, the State where the child was born will amend the child’s birth record to list the child’s new name, and list the stepparent as the child’s parent.  The step parent is no longer a step parent, and now has the same rights and responsibilities of a biological parent.

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