In some cases, a stepparent might want to officially adopt a new spouse’s child. But Illinois law only permits children to have two legal parents, which means that a stepparent may only adopt a spouse’s child if the other parent terminates his or her parental rights, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. (If the other parent is deceased, then consent is obviously not necessary.)
Terminating Parental Rights
It is not easy to terminate a parent’s rights. In most cases, Illinois law presumes that it is in the best interests of the child for both parents to retain their parental rights and responsibilities. However, Illinois can involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights under the Adoption Act if a court determines that the parent is unfit. Grounds for unfitness include:
- Child abandonment,
- Failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest or responsibility in the child’s welfare,
- Substantial child neglect,
- Extreme or repeated child cruelty,
- Findings of physical abuse,
- Failure to protect the child, and
- Depravity (like if the parent has been convicted of murder).
Parents sometimes choose to terminate their parental rights, maybe because they think it is in the child’s best interests or they have become estranged from the child. Whatever the reason, it is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Consequences of Terminating Parental Rights
It is important to understand the consequences of terminating parental rights because once terminated, parental rights are difficult -- and often impossible -- to reestablish.
Being a parent comes with certain responsibilities and certain privileges. Legally, being a parent gives you the right to make financial, medical and personal decisions for the child. It also means you are financially responsible for the child’s well-being. Terminating parental responsibilities relieves you of this financial responsibility, but it also destroys the parent-child relationship. You no longer have the right to make decisions for the child. You also lose the right to be a part of the child’s life. For example, you cannot seek visitation or negotiate a custody arrangement.
Think long and hard about what it means to terminate your parental rights, especially if you are doing so voluntarily. While you can sometimes reestablish these rights by petitioning for adoption, it is not an easy process or a foregone conclusion.
Consent from the Child
The stepparent’s adoption may proceed once the other parent’s rights have been terminated. However, if the child is 14-years-old or older then the stepparent must ask for the child’s written consent to the adoption.
An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the adoption and termination of parental rights process.
Let Us Help You with Your Case
If you need family law assistance, do not hesitate to contact a legal professional immediately. The skilled Naperville family law attorneys at the Roscich & Martel Law Firm, LLC, can help you adopt your stepchild, terminate parental rights, and handle any parental custody disputes that arise. Contact us today for a free consultation.