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Stepparent adoption: the basics

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2023 | Adoption

If you are interested in adopting a stepchild in Wisconsin, you need to know a few essential things. The state of Wisconsin has a process in place for this, always keeping the child’s best interests as the main aim.

Spouse of the biological parent

If you are the spouse of the biological parent of a child and live with both the child and your spouse, who has custody of their child, the state can allow you to adopt the child. However, the petitioner must meet certain criteria and take specific steps. The other biological parent must terminate their parental rights completely before the adoption takes place, or the court must terminate their parental rights. If the other biological parent is deceased, that would not be necessary.

Steps to adopting a stepchild in Wisconsin

Generally, the five steps to adopt a stepchild in Wisconsin are as follows:

1. The termination of the other biological parent’s parental rights (exception if deceased)
2. Filing of papers to adopt the child, which triggers an investigation.
3. The court appoints a Guardian ad Litem (a person who represents the child and serves as their advocate; this takes place at some point in the process and not necessarily in this exact order)
4. Investigation
5. Hearing and ruling

What happens if the other biological parent refuses to terminate their parental rights?

Any biological parent can voluntarily terminate their parental rights, or the court can terminate a parent’s rights involuntarily in certain cases. While typically, the court cannot force a parent to terminate their parental rights, the court can determine that grounds for termination of parental rights exist, and that the termination of that parent’s parental rights is in the child’s best interests.

Some examples of what the court considers, on a case-by-case basis, grounds for termination of parental rights:

1. Abuse
2. Neglect
3. Failure to assume parental responsibility.

After the other biological parent terminates their parental rights or the court orders for the termination of parental rights, the stepparent can officially petition the court to adopt the child. The court then reviews all pertinent information, including the investigation reports, and makes a ruling on the matter based on the child’s best interests.