Marriage, especially later in life, means that you are getting a new spouse, but you may also be acquiring relationships with the children he or she already had before meeting you. This creates myriad issues and may also make you wonder if you should legally adopt this new child or children in your life.

If the child’s biological parents are both actively involved in the child’s life and have not given up their parental rights, you will not be adopting the stepchild. However, if the other parent has relinquished or lost their legal parental rights, or if the other parent consents, then adoption may be a possibility. If you choose to adopt a stepchild, this creates permanent legal obligations for your parent-child relationship. The adoption also means that the child will be treated by law as if the stepchild is your biological child.

As a step-parent, if you choose to adopt your step-child or children you and qualify to adopt, New Jersey has rules for moving forward with or without consent of the stepchildren and/or other parent.

Adoption rules in New Jersey

  • If the child sought to be adopted is ten years of age or older, then the child must appear at the final adoption hearing, although the court may waive this requirement. The court will ask the child if he/she wants to be adopted, and if the child is of “sufficient capacity to form an intelligent preference” about the adoption, the court will give consideration to the child’s wishes.
  • For children under age 10, the child does not need to consent or appear at the final adoption hearing.
  • Anyone petitioning to adopt a child must be over age 18.
  • Anyone petitioning to adopt must also be at least 10 years older than the person they want to adopt.

Further rules apply such as background checks and length of time living in the same residence as the child. Once you legally adopt the child, the rights of the other biological parent will be terminated, including rights for them to seek custody, visitation, and future inheritance. Courts in New Jersey have the discretion to rule on adoptions and parental rights.

For guidance on your specific adoption circumstances, speak with an experienced adoption attorney.