Stepparent Adoption Process in Ohio: Important Information You Need to Know
Adopting your spouse’s child or children is a permanent and meaningful commitment. You are likely already a parent figure in their lives in every sense of the role except legally. Now you’re exploring the idea of taking that final step and you may be wondering if you should legally adopt and what that process entails. If you live in the state of Ohio, I’m here to share all the important information you need to know to get started.
My name is Amanda Waltz, I’ve been a practicing attorney since 2014 after receiving my Juris Doctorate from Capital University. With a combined 12+ years of Legal and Compliance world experience, I am dedicated to serving each client with the utmost honesty and professionalism that can sometimes be hard to find in the world of law. I practice estate planning, estate administration, stepparent adoptions, guardianships, name change, business formation, and real estate transaction law.
Let’s dive into Ohio’s adoption process.
What is the Stepparent Adoption Process in Ohio?
Adopting a stepchild tends to be simpler than other adoptions if it remains uncontested. Here is a general outline of the road to adoption.
- Do your research
First, I recommend you start by learning as much as you can about the adoption process so you can make a well-informed decision and develop an understanding before you begin the legal steps. I know you’re already off to a great start because you’re here reading this. I’ve included several commonly asked questions in the second half of this post. A few other great resources I recommend are the Ohio Bar and the Franklin County Law Library, or your local probate court; however, keep in mind the information and process could vary slightly from county to county within the state.
Make note of any questions or concerns you are unable to find answers to for your lawyer to address.
- Contact a lawyer
When you’re confident and ready to move on to the first official step of the adoption process, reach out to get started with an exploratory call. Fill out my contact form or call my office and we’ll discuss your specific situation and I will advise you on the best next steps. My goal is to give you a full understanding of the process up front, answer any lingering questions you may have, set realistic expectations, and keep you informed along the way of any changes, challenges, or delays.
- Submit the required forms
Next, we will file a petition for adoption. There is a slew of forms that will need to be completed for the court system. Don’t worry, I will walk you through each one.
It is important to note that both biological parents will need to consent to the adoption. The parent that is giving up legal custody will need to consent in writing in front of a notary. The exception to this is left up to the court, whether they believe the parent has been absent and non-supportive of the child that will be adopted. You must make reasonable attempts to notify the other parent prior to the adoption.
- Attend hearing
Once the forms are completed, I will submit them to the proper court offices where they will be filed and assigned a case number. We will then receive a date for your hearing a minimum of 20 days in advance. You, your spouse, the child or children to be adopted, and your lawyer will all need to attend this hearing. This is an exciting day and milestone for the new family! The adoptive parents will be asked under oath if they understand the rights and legal obligations to support the child or children.
If the judge decides the adoption is in the best interest of the child or children, he or she will grant your petition, and sign the order of adoption. (Yay!)
- Finalize Adoption
The court clerk will take care of filing the final paperwork. If the court did not issue a final decree at the hearing, they will issue a temporary decree which will then become final after six months.
- Apply for a new birth certificate
If the child was born in Ohio, we’ll request a new birth certificate within 30 days of the adoption finalization. If the child was not born in Ohio, I will contact the capital of the state where he or she was born for further instructions. The new birth certificate will allow you to note the child’s new last name and will list you as the natural parent.
Here are some additional frequently asked questions regarding the stepparent adoption process in Ohio:
What Are the Benefits of Legally Adopting My Stepchild?
When the adoption process is complete, your stepchild will be eligible to receive an inheritance from you and would be covered under your insurance. In the event of a divorce, you would have the same rights as a natural parent, including responsibility for child support as well as custody rights.
Acknowledgment as a parent in the eyes of the law
Having legal custody of your stepchild would allow you to take part in the decision-making of the child’s welfare, including medical, educational, and religious scenarios. You would be permitted to visit the child in a hospital, obtain medical records, and in some cases accompany them to certain places, for example picking him or her up from school might be easier.
If anything were to happen to your spouse, such as death, incapacitation, or divorce, and you did not adopt the child, you would have zero rights to be in that child’s life thereafter. In that case, full custody would go to the other parent or a natural grandparent of the child.
The emotional benefits of adoption are not to be undervalued. The permanence can provide peace of mind to you, your spouse, and the child you are adopting, and bring stability to your family. When you adopt the child, they are issued a new birth certificate to change their last name and list you as a natural parent. It demonstrates your devotion to your family, especially to the stepchild.
What are the Prerequisites to Adopting My Spouse’s Child?
It’s important to note that in some Ohio counties, you must be married to the child’s biological parent for at least one year before the adoption process can take place. You will be required to obtain a medical report from your physician and subject to a criminal background check, including fingerprinting. And the child must be living with you at least 6 months prior to the adoption finalization.
What Are a Stepparent’s Rights?
Being a stepparent does not automatically grant you legal rights to your spouse’s child or children, you essentially have no rights in the eyes of our government until you go through the formal adoption process. Once the adoption is complete, you gain the rights as if the child were born to you. Meanwhile, the legal rights of the other natural parent (not your spouse) become terminated.
Does the Child Need to Consent?
If the child is 13 years of age or older, they will need to consent in writing to the adoption. He or she will be asked if they understand what this adoption means, including the fact that this will terminate the legal relationship with the other biological parent.
Biological Parental Consent
You must have the consent of both biological or natural parents in order to proceed with the adoption. In addition, the other parent must be notified of the adoption prior to filing the petition. If it is the case that the parent being asked to give up parental rights has not been supportive of the child or has been absent with no attempt to contact or be a parental figure, the court may decide consent is not needed. The final decision is up to the court system.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Adopt My Stepchild?
Most counties require the assistance of an attorney according to the Ohio Revised Code 3107.011, which says a person seeking to adopt a minor shall utilize an agency or attorney to arrange the adoption. There may be an exception here or there, but it can be a tedious and complicated process, so I do recommend that you seek the guidance of a lawyer experienced in the area of stepchild adoptions. You can call your local probate or family court system to confirm whether you are required to hire an attorney or not.
How Much Does the Stepparent Adoption Cost?
Adopting a stepchild is a lot less expensive than other types of adoption. You can expect to pay the court’s filing fees in addition to the lawyer fees. The circumstances may vary for each adoption, and the key component of expense is whether it will remain uncontested. On average, court fees can cost between $350-500, depending on your county. Attorney fees are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
How Long Does the Process Take?
An uncontested adoption process will take 3 to 4 months on average to get through the hearing and may take additional 6 months before issuing the final decree.
It would be my honor to represent you and your family through this process. Fill out my contact form today and we will discuss your situation soon.