Many clients contact our firm asking if their unmarried partner or family member can legally adopt their child. Prior to July 1, 2021, the answer was that the potential client would have to marry their partner before the adoption could proceed and that a nonromantic family member could not adopt the child without termination of both biological parents’ rights.
Many Virginia couples and families will be happy to learn that Virginia’s Second Parent Adoption statute (formerly better known as “Stepparent Adoption”) has been revised to allow the adoption of a child by a spouse or other person with legitimate interest. Virginia Code Section 63.2-1241 previously required the adoptive parent to be married to the biological/legal parent. The updated, new code section now allows non-married persons to be legal parents and be placed on the birth certificate.
Many people may wonder who qualifies as a “person with a legitimate interest.” The list of qualifying people is far more expansive than just a long-term partner, which is what most people assume. Per Virginia Code Section 20-124.1 a “person with a legitimate interest” shall be broadly defined and includes, but is not limited to, grandparents or other blood relatives (such as aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). No person who has had their parental rights terminated or any family member of a person who has had their parental rights terminated can be considered a person with legitimate interest.
It is important for the biological/legal parent to understand the significant legal implications of adoption. Once a stepparent or person with a legitimate interest adopts a child, they are considered the legal parent as though the child was born of that parent/person. The law does not differentiate between biological/legal parents and adoptive parents. Therefore, if there are future issues and/or conflicts that result in separation or a custody case, there is no presumption in favor of the biological/legal parent over the adoptive parent/person.
It is also important to consider the relationship implications of allowing a grandparent or other nonromantic family member to adopt your child. Once a nonromantic family member adopts the child, they have equal legal rights to the child. This means that if the relationship sours that they could seek custody of the child and the legal presumption in favor of the biological/legal parent no longer exists. There are other legal mechanisms to allow a grandparent or other family member to have a legal relationship with your child that is not as significant or permanent as adoption. It is important that you retain an attorney who understands the nuances of both adoption and family law so they can properly advise you as to the best path forward to achieve your desired goals.
The adoption and family law attorneys at The Geller Law Group are experienced and client-centered attorneys who can walk you through your adoption journey. If you’d like to speak with one of our attorneys about adoption questions, please contact us at Office@thegellerlawgroup.com.
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