Step-Parent Adoption Without Biological Father

Loving homes come in many forms and today those forms often include a mixture of parents and stepparents. When a family breaks apart and reforms a new family, questions arise as to whether a step-parent can adopt the biological child of another spouse. Traditionally speaking, adopting the biological child of a spouse is one of the easiest forms of adoption. But what happens when there is no biological father or when the biological father doesn’t give consent?

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Parental Consent

Parental rights make up the cornerstone of family law. When a marriage is dissolved and a new partner comes into the life of a child, step-parent adoption is traditionally possible assuming the stepparent can get consent from:

  1.  The biological mother or birth parent
  2.  The biological father or birth parents
  3.  The child if they are old enough to comprehend the idea of adoption.

When parents willingly separate and divorce, and one biological parent is estranged, it’s quite easy to get consent from all parties involved and with the birth parent’s consent, complete step-parent adoption. 

Unfortunately, not all situations are this cut and dry. There are situations where the biological father isn’t known, hasn’t been around, or is refusing to give consent. In these situations, all is not lost, there are ways to work around the requirements for parental consent.

Can I adopt a child when the biological father is unknown?

There are situations where the biological father is unknown. Step-parent adoption when the biological father is unknown is possible under these circumstances. 

The laws vary by state, but step-parent adoption without a biological father’s consent can take place in many situations. 

Abandonment

If the biological father is unknown, many county requirements stipulate you have to prove abandonment. This means you have to prove that the biological father has abandoned their children.

Legally speaking, when a biological father is unknown, the unknown parent is referred to as the non-consenting parents. This isn’t to say that they are refusing to give their consent but simply that they haven’t.

In these situations, you have to prove that the non-consenting parents, in this case, the unknown biological father, have abandoned their child. Abandonment can be proved by showing the biological father has not paid child support or tried to contact the child for a specific time frame.

Time Frame

The time frame you must prove for abandonment varies by state. For example, in most states like it is a minimum of one year if the child has been left in the custody of the mother. However, if the child has been left with someone other than a parent, that number drops to just six months for some states.

  • In the State of Florida and Idaho, having no contact and having paid no child support for a minimum of 1 year is grounds for abandonment.
  • In the state of California, having no contact and having paid no child support for 1 year is grounds for abandonment.
  • In the state of New York, North Dakota, and Maine, having no contact for a minimum of six months is grounds for abandonment. 
  • In the state of Oregon and Kansas, having no contact for a minimum of 4 months is grounds for abandonment. 

If you can do this at a hearing, the parental rights of the biological father can be stripped in which case they can no longer interfere with the adoption process. From there, a stepparent can move forward with an adoption certificate as long as the biological mother approves, and the child if they are old enough.

Can my husband adopt my child without a biological father’s consent?

Of course, there are situations where you do know who the father is, but the biological father is refusing to give consent.

Again, this varies based on the situation and the state. Stepchild adoption without consent is possible, but only through one of three key ways. 

Unfit Parent

The first is that you prove the biological father who is refusing to give consent is unfit to be a parent. In these situations, legally speaking, the biological father who is refusing to give consent is referred to as the non-consenting parent. In order to allow a stepparent to adopt your child, you have to state to the court that the biological father is unfit to raise the child.

This is a serious legal process whereby if you prove they are unfit you literally stripped them of their parental rights so that they have no legal right to interfere with the step-parent adoption. In order to prove they’re unfit, you have to show that they have some sort of substance addiction, they are currently incarcerated, they are negligent, reckless, or otherwise abusive toward the family or the child.

In many states, proving that there have been situations of domestic violence where the father has abused the biological mother, even if they haven’t abused the child, is still grounds to deem them an unfit parent.

Paternity Challenge

Another option is to simply challenge paternity. There may be situations where someone who believes themselves to be the biological father is refusing to give consent for step-parent adoption in which case, you can prove that they are not the biological father.

If you are able to prove that they are not the father, you don’t have to prove that someone else is, you simply strip them of their parental rights which again, stops them from preventing step-parent adoption.

Abandonment

If the biological father is refusing to give consent, you can also use the same abandonment option mentioned above if the biological father has not paid child support or attempted to contact your child for a specific time frame. 

Getting Legal Help

No matter what you are trying to prove, courts are generally hesitant to strip a biological parent of their rights. When this is done the biological parent is no longer viewed as a parent legally speaking which means their child can’t inherit anything from them, they have no custody or visitation rights, they’re not required to pay child support, and they don’t have to make any decisions on behalf of their child.

Because this is such a serious matter, courts have a very high burden of proof placed on the person filing. In most situations, this means the mother who is filing against the biological father. Mothers and stepfathers have to prove but it is in the child’s best interest to terminate the parental rights of the biological father and provide evidence for things like a paternity challenge, abandonment, or an unfit parent.

Given the complexities of these situations and the high level of evidence required, it’s best to consult with a child custody attorney in order to go over the legal rights and requirements in your state. A qualified attorney will be able to help you navigate the otherwise complex family court process, and figure out which of the aforementioned solutions is the best for your situation. 

Adoption can be a great thing for a child especially if it is in their best interest. And step-parent adoption can be tricky, but with the help of a qualified attorney and evidence to support any claim, there are legal solutions around situations where the biological father is unknown or where the biological father is refusing to give consent.

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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