Practicing attorneys: Jolene Schnieder, Mark Tyckowski
Adoption establishes a legal relationship between a parent and child who are not related that way at birth. After the order of adoption is entered and the process is complete, a relation of parent and child is legally created. With the formation of that legal parent/child relationship, all the rights, duties and other legal consequences of the natural relation of child and parent thereafter exists between the adopted person and the adoptive parent(s).
Stepparent adoption is the adoption of a child by the spouse of a parent. A stepparent may adopt the child of their spouse if they are not that child’s biological parent. In order for the stepparent to adopt, there must be a death or a termination of parent rights by the child’s other parent. If the stepparent spouse lives with both the child and the parent with custody of the child, the court may allow for that adoption.
In order for a stepparent to adopt a child, there are generally four steps that are involved. First, the child’s other biological parent’s parental rights must be terminated. After the parental rights are terminated, then the stepparent may petition to adopt the child and order for investigation. Then the agency will conduct and investigation. Once the investigation has concluded there may be a hearing on the adoption.
Relatives of a child may choose to adopt said child for a variety of reasons. Relative adoption allows for children to maintain familial connections and bonds that they may have already made. Wisconsin law permits a parent who has custody of a child to place a child up for adoption in the home of a relative of that child. A relative is a person that is related to a child either through birth or marriage. This includes a: parent, grandparent, stepparent, brother, sister, first cousin, niece/nephew, aunt/uncle.
There are typically four steps that are involved in a relative adoption. Those steps are the same as the steps listed above under “Stepparent Adoption.”
What is needed to terminate a biological parent’s rights?
With few exceptions, the rights of a child’s birth parents must be terminated before the child may be adopted. A termination of parental rights means that all rights and responsibilities of a parent to a child have permanently ended. The effect of a termination of parental rights is that the parent is no longer the parent of the child, the parent cannot make any decisions about the child, and that the parent is no longer responsible for the child.
There are two ways in which parental rights may be terminated. First, a parent may voluntarily consent to a termination of their parental rights. In order for the court to accept a voluntary termination of parental rights, the parent must appear personally at the hearing to give their consent.
A second way in which a parent’s rights may be terminated is through an involuntary termination. In order for the court to grant an involuntary termination of parental rights, it must find that there are grounds for termination. Possible grounds for termination include: the parent has abandoned the child, the parent has relinquished custody of the child when the child was 72 hours old or younger, there is a continuing parental disability, there is a continuing need of protection or services, the parent has failed to assume parental responsibilities, the parent has abused the child, the parent has convicted homicide or solicitation to commit homicide of the child’s other parent, the child was conceived as a result of incest, or prior involuntary termination of parental rights to another child.
What is the legal standard and factors the court considers when deciding if it should terminate a parent’s rights?
When making the decision, the court will consider the best interests of the child. When considering the child’s best interests, the court considers:
- The likelihood of the child’s adoption
- The age and health of the child
- Whether the child has a substantial relationship with the parent or other family members and if it would be harmful to sever those relationships
- The wishes of the child
- The duration of separation between the parent and child
- Whether the child will be able to enter a more stable and permanent family relationship as a result of the termination
Am I qualified to adopt a child?
Under Wisconsin law, individuals are qualified to adopt a minor whether they are married, single, or are husband or wife if the other spouse is the parent of the minor. An adoptive parent must be 21 years of age or older. No otherwise qualified individual may be denied the ability to adopt because of race, color, ancestry or national origin. Nor can an otherwise qualified individual be denied because of that person is deaf, blind, or has another physical handicap. No person may be denied because of a religious belief in the use of spiritual means through prayer for healing. Additionally, when practicable and if requested by the birth parent, the adoptive parents shall be of the same religious faith as the birth parents of the adoptee.
Further, when a petition to adopt a child is filed, the court must order an investigation to determine whether the child is a proper subject for adoption and whether the individual(s) hoping to adopt the child have a home that is suitable for the child.
Serving Fox Cities, Menasha, Neenah And Appleton, Wisconsin
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