Adoption Paranoia (Or Is It?)

Updated on January 05, 2012
B.K. asks from Farmington, NM
19 answers

So I've decided that I want to adopt my step kids since their birth mother hasn't had any contact in nearly a year. My husband is all for it, and has decided that if for any legal reason (she contacts the kids again) it doesn't work, then we will go to court for full custody to see to it that she is legally out of their lives.

My question is about how to tell the kids and handle their possible reactions. They're 11 and 12. I don't know if we should pose this to them as a question of whether they want me to adopt them, or if they are too young to really be able to give much of an opinion considering this does have to do with their health and living situation. If we simply tell them that that is what we are doing I forsee far fewer problems.

If we ask what they want, how do we handle it (in general and more so emotionally) if they don't like the idea? We would like to do this as soon as possible, so especially if we ask their opinion, how long should we give them to let it sink in before moving ahead?

I'm very nervous about this, I'm afraid I'll be rejected even though I've been raising the kids most of their lives, and it would be more practical as well, an uncontested adoption would be a lot easier than trying to change custody arrangements with a person who can't be found. Any help is appreciated, I'm sorry this is so long.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I don't understand your question. You can't just up and decide to adopt someone else's children. The mother has to give up her parental rights and allow the adoption. Unless she does this you cannot legally adopt these kids at all. Ever.

You need to contact an attorney and file the proper paperwork to notify her that hubby is seeking to terminate her parental rights and that will mean a lot of things to her. No more child support if she was even paying any to begin with, no more visitation ever, well, until they are 18 and choose to look for her on their own, and the possibility of never seeing them again at all.

I would think if she has any desire to be their parent she would have at least called or sent a card or two to them. It really needs to be fully something they want but I would never never never even approach the idea with them unless the biological mom was on board with the idea. They need to visit with her so they can hear her thoughts on it and know she is okay with it.

If the mom is incarcerated or in rehab, something like that they may not even let her discuss any legal changes until she is out. That could come back in the future to bite you guys in the hiney. She could say she had no choice about it and she was coerced into signing away her rights.

She must be contacted and ads ran in the newspapers, relatives contacted and instructed to let her know there is going to be a hearing about her parental rights, do not have any custody or guardianship, legally, but hubby can sign papers at each medical facility such and the pediatrician, the health department, local hospitals, ect...they will each have their own form plus probably a Notary to make it official, then he needs to do this at the schools and even at the Administration building of the school system. This way is something were to happen to him they would know you have his permission to act in his absence.

If the kids are not on board you should not adopt them. It would not be to your benefit to do so. They would resent you for the rest of their lives and would turn their backs on you as soon as they were legally able. Make sure mom talks to them to let them know it's okay with her so they will be more excepting of this transition. You can't just step in and say "Oh, by the way, I'm your new mom now".

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Are you for real??? At 11 and 12 they have every right to be asked! This is a big deal. If you want it to mean something to them and not have them hold it against you, then they for sure have to be involved!
I also don't see how you can adpot without the mom giving over her rights. I would check into the legal side of that.
If they don't like the idea... then you need to explain why you want to do it and let them come to understand. If you make all the choices they will rebel because they had no control.
Let them help you in the process... like it or not, they probalby love their mom. But they need to know what you adpoting will mean. They don't have to stop loving her, but having you adpot them will make their life more secure. Show them the good side of it all.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I just went through this with my oldest two kids. We didn't ask them if they wanted me to adopt them. (I think we may have years ago.) They wanted this to happen as their biological mother did nothing for them, never contacted them, etc.

Our attorney informed us that we had to hire an ad litem to represent her. We did. The ad litem looked for her, couldn't find her, and informed the judge as such. The judge terminated her rights, and signed the adoption papers for me to adopt the kids.

Let me repeat, you do not have to ask the mother's permission. You do not have to have the mother sign anything. Those saying you can't just adopt someone else's kids are wrong. It is considered abandonment if she hasn't contacted them for 6 months or provided any form of support during that time period. (It's longer for some states, and shorter for others.) I've done it. The courts can terminate her rights without her knowing anything about it. My kids' bio-mom still has no clue that I adopted the kids.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

well, I remember when I was 11 and 12.. I certainly would have liked to have been asked if I wanted to go to a foster home OR at least have someone explain to me why I was being sent away.. that said, the kids will want an explanation or rather deserve an explanation as to why you want to adopt them... IF, in part, they are like me, despite my mom being really MESSED up.. I still had an innate loyalty to her, even if she wasn't deserving of it.. in your case, maybe you could sit the kids down and tell them of your plans... yes, it might bring on questions such as.. why doesn't our mom want us.. but don't you think they wonder that already? you need to take a step back and be less concerned with your feeling rejected as to how the kids may (despite your showing of love) already feel rejected by their own mom... that is a bigger burden to bear than them saying, no I don't want to be adopted.. it's harder for them.. whereas, you probably know deep down in your heart, they love you... but innately, they may love their mother enough that they may not want you to adopt them... in other words, it's less about you.. and more about a child's love of their biological parent.. on the other hand, it might also make their day to know that WOW.. you love them enough to want to adopt them.... either way, they are old enough that you can be honest with them.. and eventually, you are going to need to discuss matters ... at some point, kids DO want some answers..

my best to all of you

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Have you talked with a lawyer about this? From some of your statements, I don't think you have.

"Failure to maintain contact" is listed right here as "Circumstances That Are Not Grounds for Termination". You would have to prove "Abandonment". You need to talk with a lawyer to see what constitutes abandonment according to your state.

Not having contact for a year does not somehow remove their mother's parental rights. She has to agree to have her parental rights terminated before you could adopt her children. Or, a court has to agree to terminate her parental rights in her absence. I believe this would require that your husband prove that he has made every possible attempt to locate her and she can't be found.

If you can prove that she can't be located, then a court could change custody. A change of custody is a much smaller decision than removal of parental rights.

Lastly, if you do work with a lawyer, get their mother's parental rights terminated, and proceed with an adoption - Heck Yes! these girls need a say in the matter. They will be teenagers by the time this moves through the slow moving family court system.

And, if you're nervous about being "rejected" then I'm afraid you are doing this for you, not for them. What is the advantage to THEM of you adopting them?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

First you need to talk to a family lawyer to make sure this process will go smoothly. Second, I would say "James and Sally, I have been in your lives for the past (insert time here) years and I have raised you as my own and your father and I are looking to make that legal by legally adopting you as my children. I am sure you have questions, I hope I have the answers and if I do not have them right now I will get them. So, any questions or thoughts on this?" Leave it more as a statement that you are willing to hear their side on and go from there.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

We had a situation in our family like this, although with younger children. Basically what happened was that the biological parents of the children were total flakes. The maternal grandparents stepped in to raise the children. It was actually pretty easy for them to have the bio parents sign away their parental rights (it was phrased to them, "Either you will pay child support, or you will sign away your rights." - both of them signed away their rights without a fight). Anyway, once that was done, the legal adoption process was not difficult.

The maternal grandparents (now legally the parents of these children) have never said a negative word to the children about the bio parents. The bio mom has more or less pulled her act together, and is in her kids' lives now. They know she is their bio mom, but she functions more like an aunt to them. The bio father is nowhere in the picture. The kids seem to do well knowing that they not only have two steady, solid, loving parents who raise them, but they also have a mom who sees them several times a week. I only bring this up because I think it's important that you stress to both of your kids that it's okay if they still want to have a relationship with their bio mom someday. They don't have to choose, you simply love them so much, you're their everyday mom who takes them to school, helps them with homework, etc etc and you would like to formalize that relationship with them so they will know that you'll be there every day, forever for them. I think if you put it to them that way, emphasizing that you are not trying to replace their bio mom, and they do not have to choose between the two of you, it will go more smoothly. Granted, it sounds like their mother is a real piece of work if she hasn't been in the picture for a year, but I'm sure every child in that situation hopes and dreams that mom will come back some day (even if they know they would never want to live with her).

Best of luck to you. I think you will find that your kids will be so happy long term with this. All children want love and stability, and it's so wonderful that you're willing to take that on and become their mother legally.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It sounds like adoption may be necessary for their own protection. If something were to happen to your husband, their mother would have all the legal rights and you would have none. Talk to the kids about it, explain the reasons why you want to do this, and don't worry about being rejected. If they object, it could be for a myriad of reasons that have nothing to do with you - as one poster noted, it could just be loyalty to their mother, despite her problems. Also as another poster noted, be prepared for a potential legal battle - you cannot adopt unless their mother relinquishes her rights or they are terminated. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

Talk to the lawyer first-- NO point in getting the kids stirred up until and unless you know EXACTLY what the steps are. Then, if it's even possible and if you decide you still want to do it after knowing EXACTLY which hoops you have to jump through and what's involved in terminating the bio mom's rights, I'd sit the kids down and say something like your Dad and I have decided it would be best if I adopted you legally because of this and that and the other but before we went ahead with it we wanted to let you know why we're doing it and what's involved and to find out how you feel about it....

Not really giving them veto power, but definitely letting them express themselves....

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I'm sorry for Jennifer's comment, "Are you for real???" YOu do not sound like an idiot to me, rather you sound like a very caring mom trying to do best for these kids. I do not think that you ask their permission, but it should be a discussion that includes them so they don't feel they are being pushed around. Although, if they oppose this idea, they need to know that you are doing what's best for them and you will still adopt them becuase you love them and want whats best for them. This will be hard for them, because it is a definite indication their mom is not coming back for them and while they most likely know this, they probably do not want to believe it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

You need to talk with an attorney to see if this is even possible and of course you need to talk with the children. You may not have any use for the mother but they may have a connection, even if you have been around for a while.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

Actually the birth mother would need her rights terminated. My husband tried to adopt my 15 year old after we first got married 14 years ago and we got told unless he signed paperwork it was a no go. You can of course get legal guardianship done. At the ages they are the court will be asking the children if they agree to it

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

At 11 and 12 your stepchildren will have a say-so with the court, the judge will need to speak with them, so you need to present your intentions to them now and get their feedback, preferably with a child psychologist involved to help everyone cope with your intentions. Especially if you value a trusted relationship with them, particularly as they enter their teen years.

Also, you cannot just adopt them, their birth mom needs to be located, her parental rights terminated voluntarily or by the court, but through the court either way, before you can initiate adoption proceedings. You cannot just go to court for full custody to see that she is legally out of their lives, you need it documented, which hopefully you have done with a child psychologist/therapist, and their mother needs to be contacted to contest or not contest as she sees fit.

Even children who are horribly abused and neglected continue to love the biological parent who's "out of the picture" so be prepared for the same reaction. If the children are not in therapy as of yet do so now, and let the therapist know what you would like to do,. The therapist can talk to them, talk to you as a family and help you do this with as minimum of frustration on everyone's behalf..

Best wishes!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Biloxi on

I think it is lovely that you want to adopt your step children. So often step parents abdicate their roles in the children's lives because they think, or they are told, that they are not the "real" parents. If you have been raising them like your own, and love them like your own, then of course you want to legally make them your own.

Ok then, since you and your husband are in agreement, I think that the both of you should sit down with the children - or do it over dinner when everyone is relaxed and casual. Tell them how you feel about them and the family that you all are together and that you would like to, in essence, shout that out to the world, by making them your children in the eyes of the law. You could offer them the practical considerations of the adoption - that you would have the legal right to continue to care for them no matter what may happen - but go very gently there so as not to scare them - if you go there at all. :)

But, do stress to them that even if you adopt them it will not change whatever relationship they want to have (or have the opportunity to have) with their birth mother.

Please don't worry about being rejected. They may balk at the idea at first - but this is a subject that may need to be discussed over a period of time.

Good Luck
God Bless

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dover on

In order to adopt a child that parental rights have not been terminated, you will still have to seek her out (especially if she has any form of custoday now). Even if you don't adopt and your husband goes for full custoday, that does not exclude visitation and therefore would not guarantee she would be out of their lives completely...from a legal standpoint.

Although the law may not dictate that you have to ask their opinion, I would think that given their ages (almost teenagers), you would want to ask their opinion...a lot less issues that way. They are of an age that they are growing up and testing their boundaries, that last thing you want to do is TELL them this is happening and let it be one more thing they can rebel against. I would suggest you go to them, present a united front, and simply state (however you want to word it but basically say...) "You know we both love you very much and while I am not your biological mother, I couldn't love you more if I were. I have been your mother for xxx years and would like to legally be more than just your "step mother". Your father and I would like to proceed with the process to allow me to legally adopt you. This is what we plan to do but before the process starts, we would like to know how you feel about it". That lets them know that you care how they feel even if they don't get to make the decision. Now if they are adamant that they don't want this, you may want to rethink it but if they are ok or "on the fence" it should be ok to proceed.

One thing to keep in mind, even if legally you are not obligated to allow their bio-mom to contact them, if they want to contact her I would suggest you allow it for their own good and the good of your relationship with them.


answers from Chicago on

I was 9 when my step-dad adopted me. I was very much involved in the proceedings leading up to the court date and in court. I appreciated being involved because at that age, I knew what I wanted (my birth dad was not in the picture, but he was in contact with us). I think your children would be appointed their own attorney (even babies have their own guardian ad litem) and the whole thing would need to be discussed with them.

I don't think it's a rejection of you if they were to question this. I think it's natural to question why something like this would be taking place in their lives.



answers from Phoenix on

I completely agree with Catherine. My husband and I raised our grandchild but her mother was always part of her life. I also know from experience that children are extremely loyal to biological parents and sensitive when others criticize them.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I think in order to adopt them, their mom will have to agree to it and terminate her parental rights, right?
You can still seek full custody without adopting them, though, right?
I think adoption and custody are two completely separate issues.
I'm sure you are their primary mother figure, but their mom will always be their mom.....but that doesn't mean they are "rejecting" you!



answers from Washington DC on

I don't think it is their choice for you to be their legal guardian. For health and safety reasons, you should have some authority (e.g., the four of you are in a car crash and dad isn't responsive to make health decisions).

However, I think they need to have a lot of input into the adoption decision. They have a mother, whether they love her ornot , or see her or not, or wonder about her or not, whatever - they know who she is and may have very complicated feelings about her and you. They may even feel differently then each other on this topic. They are certainly old enough to have an option that should be respected. And it isn't about rejection. It's not even about you. It's about her. Even kids who never know their parents seek out a connection with them at some level, and they may have very mixed feelings about severing that relationship. Even if you are their mother in every sense of the word, that can't erase her for better or worse.

So, I definately think you have to bring this up gradually and get their input. And you have to be ready to make a case for why? How does it benefit them? How does it benefit you? How does it benefit your husband? But it is that first question that will be tricky. To me the biggest reason would be if your husband would die, their mother could take them back. Adoption protects them. But that is a hard conversation to have.

You might be wise to see a lawyer if you haven't and find out how long she must be missing in order to finalize an adoption. If it is a long time, maybe you do get the balll rolling on that. But I think you need to deal with the emotional consequences of this change. A year isn't very long. they may not want to sever ties. And how long have you been in their lives?

Good luck, I think it is a wonderful and smart thing to do, but I think you need to be very well prepared for questions from them and an a mixed reaction. Only you know the kids. I'm sure they love you, but their feelings for their mother whether good bad or indifferent are going to run very deep now and in the future.

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