When you marry someone with a child from a previous relationship, you become their stepparent. This is not a legal parental relationship, however. To become a legal parent of your spouse’s child, you need to adopt the child through stepparent adoption.

Ideally, every child would have two parents who are loving and responsible. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. In cases where the parent does not financially and emotionally support the child, involuntary termination of parental rights may result in the adoption of the child by a stepparent.

What are the grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights?

  • The other parent has refused or failed to perform parental duties for at least six months
  • The child lacks the essential parental care because of repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the other parent
  • The other parent knows or has reason to know of the child’s birth and has failed to maintain substantial contact for four months

The parental rights of both biological parents will generally need to be terminated before someone may adopt the child. Stepparent adoptions are an exception to this rule because Pennsylvania relieves the biological parent/spouse of this requirement in the case of a stepparent adoption.

To adopt a stepchild, you must present an adoption petition to the appropriate court. In Pennsylvania, the county where the family resides with determine the rules regarding stepparent adoptions. The stepparent will need to attend the preliminary hearing, where the judge will likely have questions for everyone in the family. If the judge believes the adoption supports the best interest of the child, they will set a date for the final adoption hearing.