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We routinely consult with potential clients who are in committed relationships and know they want to adopt their partner’s child but aren’t sure if they have to wait until they get married or not. The basic answer is no. In California, an unmarried person may adopt their partner’s child through a process known as “second parent adoption.” Basically, the custodial parent “places” their child for adoption with their partner but executes an addendum in which they retain their parental rights. This involves two meetings with an adoption social worker, who must give a formal advisement of rights to the placing parent. Additionally, a full homestudy must be completed by either the county social services agency or a private adoption agency. The investigation will include interviews in which the parties discuss the adopting parent’s relationship to the child and commitment to the family.

If you’re married, you may adopt using a simplified adoption process known as a stepparent adoption. The custodial parent simply executes one document consenting to their child’s adoption by their spouse and does not need to meet separately with an adoption social worker for an advisement of rights. The stepparent investigation is a much shorter process than the full homestudy required in a second parent adoption, and typically involves just one interview with the child and parents. There is no minimum amount of time you must be married before starting the process.

Comparing Second Parent and Stepparent Adoptions in California.

Process: A second parent adoption requires one additional meeting with an adoption social worker and a more extensive home study investigation than what is required for a stepparent adoption.

Time frame: A second parent adoption usually takes a little longer than a stepparent adoption, however, it can be expedited if necessary.

Cost: The homestudy investigation for a second parent adoption costs about $3,200 more than the stepparent investigation. There is also an additional cost for the adoption social worker needed in a second parent adoption of about $1,200. Legal fees for the second parent adoption are slightly higher as well, as additional documents are required.

It’s important to consider, however, that the federal Adoption Tax Credit is available for second parent adoptions and not for stepparent adoptions. So, while a second parent adoption costs significantly more initially, you may be eligible to receive much of it back in the form of a tax credit when the adoption finalizes.

ALG attorneys offer a free consultation to help you more thoroughly consider your options and decide between a second parent or stepparent adoption.