Step-Parent Adoption and Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

After divorce or separation, most times both parents will move on. In many cases one of the parents will get remarried. The new spouse will have a special bond with the child of the original marriage, and in some situations may end up being a better parent to the child than the biological child. Step-parent adoption is a process by which the new spouse may adopt the child and become the legal parent. The simplest way to accomplish this is for the biological parent to agree to relinquish his or her parental rights in order for the step parent to adopt. If the step parent refuses to relinquish, it may still be possible to complete the process.

To proceed absent the biological parent’s consent and voluntary relinquishment, the biological parent’s parental rights will need to be involuntarily terminated. In New Jersey, several different grounds exist to achieve this. The first ground is to demonstrate the biological parent has been convicted of a crime – specifically neglect, abuse, or abandonment of a child. The next is a parent’s failure to cooperate with the Department of Child Protection and Permanency. In order for this ground to be available, the refusal to cooperate must be long-term. A short period of intransigence will not be sufficient to terminate a biological parent’s rights under this ground. The next potential ground is for a child’s best interest. This best interest inquiry is not the same as is used when the initial custody determination is made. In this situation, a parent seeking to terminate the other parent’s rights must prove that the parent has harmed the child and will continue to do so. The parent must also be unwilling to end the harmful conduct, and be unwilling or unable to provide the child with a safe or stable home. In short, the parent must be shown to be unfit. The final available ground is available if the biological parent has been convicted of murdering or causing an assault resulting in serious injury to another one of his or her children.

If the biological parent’s rights are successfully terminated, the step parent wishing to adopt will need to go through a background check to show that he or she does not have a history of child abuse. Once that is complete, there will be a short hearing before a judge to finalize the adoption. If the child is over ten years old, he or she must attend the hearing.

Termination of parental rights is difficult and requires an experienced attorney, especially in cases where the termination is involuntary. We have extensive experience in achieving our client’s child custody goals. Contact us today at 732-529-6937 to make an appointment to talk about your child.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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