Blended families are more frequently becoming the norm throughout the U.S.
With this, our New York City family law attorneys have seen a growing number of stepparents who wish to legally remove the "step" from the relationship with the initiation of a formal adoption.
There can be a host of benefits to making the tie between parent-and-child a legal one. There is of course the emotional aspect of it. Additionally, there may be certain health care and other benefits that may only be conferred from the stepparent to the child if he or she is considered the legal parent. Plus, it ensures that should anything happen to the other spouse, the stepparent will have the unquestionable right to assert child custody.
In most cases, unless the other biological parent is deceased, the first step toward a formal stepparent adoption is termination of parental rights of the other biological parent. For some, this is a relatively simple matter, particularly if the other parent's absence involves, for example, an extended period of incarceration that is unlikely to end soon.
In New York, a biological parent can voluntarily choose to forfeit their parental rights and responsibilities. In other cases, it may be necessary to seek a court order to forcibly terminate parental rights. In order for the latter to take place, the biological parent whose rights are in jeopardy must have abandoned the child, or in other words have had no contact for a period of six months or more. Even then, termination of parental rights are not necessarily guaranteed. It will be up to the stepparent and his or her spouse to prove why such action is in the best interest of the child.
The recent case of Wayne G. v. Jacqueline W., before the Nebraska Supreme Court, was an example of where the termination of parental rights for the purpose of stepparent adoption was upheld. Although this is an out-of-state case, the same legal principles are applicable here in New York.
In this case, a couple met in California, had a daughter together there and then separated, with the mother taking the child to Nebraska in 2006. Five years later, the father sought to establish paternity and parenting time. The mother responded by affirming he was the biological father, but asserted he was not a fit parent, and filed for termination of his parental rights.
At the hearing, the mother presented evidence from numerous witnesses of past physical abuse, not just on her but on previous spouses and even children. She also provided documentation of his extensive struggle with crack cocaine addiction, and his lengthy criminal record, which included felony convictions. She also indicated that his parental rights to other children had been terminated. Further, she had remarried and her new husband wished to adopt the girl, who called him "daddy."
The father conceded his checkered past, but insisted he had changed his life in three years preceding and was ready to be a father to the child in question. He testified he'd been two years clean, was properly medicated and had a good relationship with his long-term girlfriend's children.
The county court sided with the mother in finding termination of the biological father's parental rights were in the best interest of the child. An appellate court affirmed, and so did the state supreme court.
Courts generally will not agree to terminate parental rights unless there is strong cause to suggest it is in the child's best interests. Evidence of prior abuse, drug addiction and abandonment may all lay a solid foundation for this claim. There could be other grounds as well, depending on the circumstances in your case.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
Call our New York City Family Law offices at (718) 864-2011.
Wayne G. v. Jacqueline W., June 6, 2014, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Davidson v. Carrilo - Importance of Attorney Representation in Brooklyn Child Custody Matters, May 30, 2014, New York City Family Law Attorney Blog