Rarely does a family law attorney handle a case that does not involve the possible break up of a relationship, married or unmarried. The process can be traumatic to all involved, especially the children. One exception to this rule is a stepparent adoption. While all adoptions involve the termination of one parent-child relationship and the creation of a new one, stepparent adoptions celebrate the relationship between a parent, their current spouse or partner, and the child. Through the adoption process, the adoptive parent is legally transformed into the child’s “biological parent”, with all of the attendant rights, responsibilities, and obligations.
In most instances, a biological parent who relinquishes his or her rights (or has them terminated by the court) has not played a significant role in the child’s life. In the saddest of cases, this parent may have actually abandoned the child.
Oregon is at the forefront of progressive adoption practices. It is not uncommon for individuals outside of the state to seek adoptions in Oregon in order to take advantage of these progressive practices. How does Oregon differ from other states? First, Oregon allows a broad range of persons to qualify as adoptive parents. Marital status, age, income level, and home ownership are not prohibitive barriers to adoption. An adoptive parent may be married or in a committed relationship. Second, Oregon laws allow a relinquishing parent to maintain some degree of contact with a child. Under certain circumstances, this parent may continue to have limited contact with the child. The quality and nature of any continuing contact may range from a limited exchange of photos to periodic visits with the child. This is a very radical departure from the practices in most states. Finally, in the early 1980s, Oregon established the Voluntary Adoption Registry to aid adopted children, birth parents, related siblings, and other persons in anonymously exchanging information regarding their genetic, medical, and social histories. In the early 1990s, the Assisted Search Program was developed to allow adopted children, birth parents, related siblings, other family members to register on a mutual consent registry. If all parties consent, and after the appropriate paperwork is filed, identifying information can be released.
To reiterate, stepparent adoptions are a celebration of the existing emotional bonds and commitments that people make when they enter into a relationship with another person who is a parent from a prior relationship. The joy of such events is shared by all involved: the adoptive parent, their spouse or partner, the courts, and last, but not least, the child.