When you and your spouse married, you understood that you were taking on the role of stepparent. Since then, you and your stepchild have developed a strong parent-child bond. Now, you want to adopt your stepchild so you can offer him or her all the benefits of a legal parent, and your spouse is ecstatic. However, you cannot become a legal parent while the other parent retains his or her parental rights.

Here are several ways that the other parent may lose his or her parental rights:

Unfit parent

There may be evidence that the other parent is unfit to care for the child. For example, if he or she is abusive or neglectful to the point that the child is in danger, the court may determine that it is in the child’s best interests to terminate that parent’s rights. Other issues that may cause the court to deem the parent unfit include the following:

  • Alcohol or substance use disorder
  • Incarceration
  • Failure to visit the child
  • Mental health disorder

Abandonment

Abandonment goes beyond failing to take advantage of scheduled visitation times. If your stepchild’s other parent has not communicated with him or her in at least six months, has not provided financial support and seems to have disappeared, the law considers this to be abandonment and may terminate parental rights.

Evidence disputing the presumed father

By law, the person named as the child’s father on the birth certificate is his or her presumed father. This does not necessarily mean that he is the biological father, but he is the legal father. If his name is not on the birth certificate and he was never married to your spouse but claims to be the father and provides financial support to the child, then he is the presumed father. If you can prove that the other parent is, in fact, not the presumed father, then you do not need his consent to adopt your stepchild.