Finding someone who makes you happy that you can share your life and family with is an amazing thing. If you have thought about taking things to the next level, and considered adopting your stepchild (or having a new spouse adopt your child from a previous marriage), you may be unsure about the process. Adopting a child in New Jersey involves much more than simply signing a piece of paper. The process becomes even more complicated if the child’s other birth parent does not want to relinquish their parental rights.

Prohibition in New Jersey Against Three Legal Parents

Under New Jersey law, a child cannot have more than two legal parents. Therefore, if a stepparent wants to adopt their stepchild, the other parent must legally and formally relinquish their parental rights. Although as a practical matter, it is fairly common in modern society for a child to have multiple parents (for example, two fathers and two mothers). But in the eyes of the law, only two individuals can have parental rights.

Loss of Parental Rights—What it Means

A parent who relinquishes their parental rights no longer has a legal obligation to pay child support. If a stepparent adopts the child, then they become the person who is legally obligated to provide for the adopted child.

If a parent relinquishes their rights, they no longer have any right to visitation with the child. They also have no right to be consulted regarding important decisions about the child’s welfare, such as where they will live or go to school. The child will also lose their right to inheritance in the event that a former parent who has relinquished their rights dies intestate (without a will).

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In some cases, when a parent does not voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, those rights can be terminated by operation of law. Regardless of whether a person relinquishes their parental rights, or they are terminated, this parent no longer has any rights or duties regarding their former child-such as the obligation to pay child support or visit the child.

In New Jersey, there are four legal grounds upon which, if established, can serve as a predicate for the involuntary termination of parental rights.

  • The parent has harmed or will harm the child, or cannot provide a safe environment for them.
  • The child was previously removed from the parent’s home, and the parent has failed to correct the situation that created the problem.
  • Conviction of a crime related to child abandonment, neglect, or cruelty.
  • Conviction of murder or grave bodily harm of any of the parent’s children.

What Happens After Termination or Relinquishment of Parental Rights?

The next step is that the stepparent needs to undergo a background check to ensure that they have not been convicted of child abuse or neglect. Then, a short hearing is held which the child must attend if they are of a certain age. These are usually very happy, celebratory occasions.