Adopting stepchildren, or stepparent adoption, occurs when a stepparent takes over the legal responsibilities in place of that child’s noncustodial parent. In a majority of these adoptions, the biological parents are divorced, one of them remarries, and the other birth parent is not willing or able to act as the child’s second parent.

Stepparent adoption can also happen if the other biological parent is deceased. These adoptive parents may also be awarded custody if the biological parent passes away or becomes incapacitated. Once the adoption is complete, there are no differences between biological and adopted children in terms of custody, inheritance, and other parental responsibilities.

Rules and Regulations

New Jersey laws dictate that a child may have only two legal parents. This can be complicated when there are several stepparents, same-sex couples, and shared parental roles. To initiate the adoption, there needs to be written consent from the custodial parent, and the noncustodial, biological parent must willingly terminate their parental rights, be deemed unfit, or be deceased. There are also cases where the custodial parent and stepparent have divorced, and the stepparent seeks to adopt the child. For this, both of the biological parents will have to end their parental rights, be declared unfit, or be deceased.

In New Jersey, stepparents must be 18 or older to adopt and 10 years older than the child. There may be exceptions for this though, and waivers may be requested. These adoptions are initiated for stepparents who have taken on the responsibilities of parenting the child if the noncustodial parent will not do so. There must be proof that the stepparent is dedicated to caring for the child, and if the child is able to, they may voice their opinions. A judge will rule the final decision.

Terminating Parental Rights

Parents that neglect or abuse their children may have their rights terminated, which can pave the way for stepparent adoption. This can be decided in court, when it is determined that the parent is unfit to take care of the child. Causes for this include emotional or physical harm, sexual abuse, abandonment, and creating unstable home environments that lead to risky situations for the child.


Once everything is in order, the adoption process usually takes a few months and includes child abuse and criminal background checks. When appropriate, it is also important to obtain written and notarized consent ahead of time to smooth things along. Absentee parents are difficult to locate, which can prolong the process. Any stepparent that wants to adopt must fully intend to be that child’s legal parent, and the decision to adopt must be in the child’s best interest.

Contact us by completing an online form or call us at 856-751-5505 for a free consultation. Our offices are in Marlton and Somers Point, New Jersey, where we represent families throughout South Jersey, including Camden County, Burlington County, and Atlantic County.