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Stepparent Adoption


The information included in this guide does not apply to independent, agency, international, or adult adoptions. See the Step-by-step Guide on Adult Adoption for information on that procedure.

BASICS

Adoption is a process that creates a legal parent-child status between parties who do not have a biological parent-child relationship. Once an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents and children have the same rights and obligations as legal or biological parents and children (Family Code (Fam Code) § 8616). In other words, the parents and children acquire rights such as custody and inheritance, and responsibilities such as child support and liability for the child's willful misconduct.

In a stepparent adoption, one biological parent (the adopting parent's spouse) retains parental rights, but the parent-child relationship is severed with the other parent (Fam Code § 8548). After this relationship is severed, the biological parent loses all rights to and responsibility for the child (Fam Code § 8617). The adopting parent acquires these rights and responsibilities. 

Stepparent adoption is a permanent transfer of parental rights and responsibilities. Once a stepparent adoption is finalized, it cannot be revoked or nullified, except in very rare situations, such as serious legal defect, fraud, or mental illness or disability discovered within 5 years of the adoption (Fam Code §§ 9100-9102). The adoption is not terminated if the stepparent and biological parent divorce. 

In order to proceed with a stepparent adoption, you must meet all the legal requirements:

  • The adopting and legal parent must be legally married or in a domestic partnership registered with the state (Fam Code § 9000). If you are not married to, or domestic partners with, the child's parent, you may still be able to adopt using the "second parent adoption" procedure. That is a very complex process, and will require the assistance of an attorney. 
  • The adopting parent must be at least 18 years old, and at least 10 years older than the child (Fam Code §§ 8600-8601). The 10-year age difference may be waived in some situations.
  • The adopting parent's spouse or domestic partner must consent to the adoption (Fam Code § 8603). 
  • The child's other legal parent must consent to the adoption. If you cannot obtain the other parent's consent, you may still be able to adopt the child. There are several different methods for finalizing a stepparent adoption without parental consent (Fam Code §§ 8604-8606). The flow-chart at the end of this guide will help you determine the proper method for your case. All of these methods will require you to prepare special legal documents, called pleadings. Samples of these pleadings are available at the Law Library.
  • If the child is 12 years or older, the child must consent to the adoption (Fam Code § 8602).

More information about stepparent adoptions is available from the resources listed below.

SELF-HELP

Do Your Own California Adoption: Nolo's Guide for Stepparents and Domestic Partners KFC 132 .Z33 (Self Help)
This book provides step-by-step instructions for each adoption procedure, including the methods required when you cannot obtain parental consent. Each chapter has samples of the forms and other pleadings you will need to complete your stepparent adoption.

Sacramento Superior Court's Stepparent Adoption Guide www.saccourt.ca.gov/family/docs/fl-stepparent-adoption.pdf
This detailed guide provides step-by-step instructions for the stepparent adoption process in the Sacramento County Superior Court. 

PRACTICE GUIDES

California Civil Practice: Family Law Litigation KFC 115 .A6 B36  Vol. 3, Chap. 21
Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using WestlawNext.

California Domestic Partnerships KFC 115 .C336 Chap. 14
Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using OnLaw.

California Family Law: Practice and Procedure KFC 115 .L78 Vol. 5, Chaps. 170-172
Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.

California Forms of Pleading and Practice KFC 1010 .A65 C3 (Ready Reference)
Vol. 2, Chaps. 12-12B
Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.

FORMS
Stepparent adoptions require statewide Judicial Council forms, state agency forms, and Sacramento County Superior Court local forms. These forms, along with step-by-step instructions, are available from the Sacramento County Superior Court's website at www.saccourt.ca.gov/family/adoptions.aspx#forms. Additionally, if parental consent cannot be obtained from the absent parent, you will need to create several pleading documents that ask the court to terminate that parent's rights. Samples of these pleadings are available in the Law Library, using the resources listed above.

WEBSITES

Adoption - California Courts Self-Help Website www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-adoption.htm

Adoptions - Sacramento Superior Court www.saccourt.ca.gov/family/adoptions.aspx    

updated 4/2014 mpj