Adopting a Stepchild: 6 Things to Know

By Willow Breckenridge | Jun 11, 2021

Adopting a Foster Child

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and they form in various ways. It isn’t who shares your DNA that matters, but who you share your home, life and hopes each day. 

If you married someone who had children, you might want to make the arrangement more formal by adopting their little ones. When is doing so the best choice for everyone, and what must you do to prepare? Here are six things you need to know about adopting a stepchild. 

1. Carefully Consider the Circumstances 

Every family is unique. If your stepchild’s other birth parent is deceased, adoption could seem like the natural choice. However, even in such circumstances, you have to consider the child’s wishes. If you feel like your stepchild hates you, they might merely need more time to grieve or adjust, so be patient. 

In other cases, your stepchild’s biological parent remains in the picture. In such instances, do some soul searching about your motivations. You could scar a child psychologically by letting your family dynamics dissolve into a tug-of-war with them as the rope. 

Sometimes, the biological parent doesn’t want to be in the child’s life anymore. Other times, external factors such as illness or imprisonment make them want to sever ties so that their child can have a better life than they can provide. If the decision is mutual, it can be healing for everyone — but understand that emotions will run high. 

2. Discuss the Move With Everyone 

Adoption can be one of the most powerful bonding rituals you share with your stepchild. You in essence, tell them, “I love you so much that I want you in my life forever as a matter of law.”

However, you don’t want to create a situation akin to an arranged marriage. For your adoption to go as smoothly as possible, your stepchildren should look forward to the process as much as you do. 

In most cases, adoption terminates the other biological parent’s rights, effectively making you the parent. If you and your partner later separate, it doesn’t end your relationship with the child or the rest of the family. Instead of brushing such possibilities under the rug, address them openly and honestly with grandparents and other relatives. 

3. Assemble the Necessary Documentation 

Adoption requires filling out the necessary paperwork, much of which your attorney will complete for you. However, you will need to provide them with the required information to do so. 

Understand that the biological parent might not cooperate in this endeavor. Sometimes, they can be hostile, even if they haven’t had any contact or anything else to do with the child for years. Your spouse may need to request copies of their child’s Social Security card and other identifying information if the other parent refuses to provide this documentation. 

4. Find Competent Legal Help 

Adopting a stepchild is no time to DIY, especially if the other parent remains in the picture and promises to cause hiccups. Even if you have a straightforward case where the biological parent is deceased, you want to cross every T and dot every I. 

You can start with an online directory, but it’s best to find someone you can trust. Recommendations from family and friends are often the most reliable resources for finding the help you need. 

5. Save Up for Required Costs

It costs nearly $40,000 to adopt a child, and that’s only including the legal requirements. If your family is already strapped financially, consider whether another arrangement might work best for the moment. Money woes can strain an otherwise happy relationship and lead to future problems. 

You’ll also incur incidental charges, even if your stepchild already resides in your home. You’ll want to welcome them with a formal party, which can become pricey depending on how many relatives you invite. 

6. Prepare Your Home for the Changes 

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your adoption, you may need to undergo a home study. You should do well, but it pays to know what to expect to ease your anxious nerves.

You may also need to redecorate when adopting a stepchild if they didn’t reside with you full-time before. Help make them feel welcome by letting them design their bedroom — you can use the renovation process to help ease their transition and instill positive feelings. 

Tackle These Six Things When Adopting a Stepchild

Adopting a stepchild isn’t a decision that you should make lightly. When going through the process, ensure you tackle these six things. 

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