Wisconsin stepparent adoption can be very simple process, once the biological parent’s rights are terminated. As in any termination of parental rights, the case occurs in two stages. A stepparent cannot adopt if both biological parents retain their parental rights. Therefore, the first step is to terminate one parent’s rights. If the biological parent agrees to terminate, he/she can sign a consent and opt out of the remainder of the process. If the parent does not consent, a petition must be filed for an involuntary termination. Involuntary terminations are much more difficult and were addressed in a previous blog.
The process for voluntary termination and a subsequent Wisconsin stepparent adoption is much more streamlined. The terminating parent signs a consent, which is then filed along with the petition to terminate rights and separate petition for the Wisconsin stepparent adoption. The consent stage is the step most often misunderstood in the process. The biological parent cannot be coerced, paid, intimidated, or otherwise persuaded in any significant way to give up his/her rights. The judge must closely question the parents about this at the termination hearing. Therefore, it is vital that the consent stage be completely clean and transparent.
Once the consent is obtained, the stepparent will undergo a screening. This is much less involved than a typical adoption study. The stepparent and child will be interviewed, along with a criminal and social service background check. A guardian ad litem will also be appointed to meet wiht the child. Once this is successfully completed, the case worker and guardian ad litem will make a recommendation to the judge whether the adoption should proceed.
The termination and adoption proceeding will occur at the same time. The hearing usually takes about 30 minutes to ensure all the requirements are met, and that the terminating parent was not coerced. At the end of the hearing, the judge terminates the biological parent’s rights and grants the stepparent adoption. The child’s name may also be changed at that time.