The word “family” has a broad meaning in the United States, referring to many different combinations of loved ones, not all of whom are related by blood. With the U.S. Census board reporting that 75% of divorced individuals remarry, approximately 1,300 new families with step-children form every day. While the majority of biological parents without primary custody of their child remain deeply involved in that child’s life, in some cases, a biological parent may decline to be an active participant in raising their child. A biological parent may have active addictions or lifestyle choices that make it impossible or unadvisable to play a role in a child’s life. In many of those cases, a step-parent’s role in a child’s life may fill the critical gap left behind by the biological parent.
Colorado courts always prioritize the best interests of a child. For this reason, they have certain requirements that must be in place before a step-parent can file for adoption. Your case must meet the following prerequisites:
The adopting step-parent must be at least 21 years old
The adopting step-parent must be married to the child’s biological parent
The non-custodial biological parent’s parental rights must be terminated unless the other biological parent is deceased.
Termination of Parental Rights for Step-Parent Adoption
Colorado courts protect the constitutional rights of parents. For that reason, a step-parent cannot simply adopt a step-child as their own if the result usurps a living biological parent’s place in the child’s life or essentially gives the child a third legal parent. Instead, the courts restrict step-parents from adopting unless the non-custodial biological parent’s rights are legally terminated in one of two ways:
The biological parent willingly relinquishes their parental rights
The biological parent loses their parental rights in a court hearing
Some biological parents make the decision to relinquish—sign away—parental rights on their own because they see that it’s in the child’s best interest to allow a step-parent to take on the role of caring for and financially supporting the child. While the courts won’t typically allow a parent to sign away their own parental rights if they have child support obligations, they will do so if a step-parent is prepared to fill the role of financially supporting the child, which is a legal obligation of parenthood once an adoption becomes final.
If a parent won’t willingly relinquish their parental rights or cannot be located, the child’s biological parent may file a motion to terminate that parent’s rights.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Colorado
Colorado requires significant grounds for termination, showing that the parent cannot or will not provide a loving, stable environment for the child. Grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights include:
Parental neglect leading to the child’s injury or the injury or death of a sibling
Abandonment of the child for a year or more
Failing to fulfill court-ordered child visitation
Failing to provide court-ordered child support for a year or more with little likelihood of paying in the future
How Does Colorado Step-Parent Adoption Move Forward After Termination of Parental Rights?
With a child’s best interests in mind, the court requires state and federal fingerprinting checks and a background check on step-parents seeking to adopt. Once the court clears a step-parent as eligible to adopt, the following framework applies:
The step-parent files a petition to adopt and submits a notice of fees paid
The custodial parent signs a consent form
The child signs a consent form if they are age 12 or over
Parent and step-parent receive a hearing notice
The non-custodial parent terminates rights and must sign a consent to the adoption
Parent and step-parent sign a waiver and acceptance of service forms
The parent and step-parent attend a hearing to finalize the adoption
A Colorado family attorney with experience in step-parent adoption can help to streamline the process and diligently ensure that the paperwork is properly filled out and filed, and that your case meets all legal requirements to move forward toward your new family life.