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By Nicholas Presentato, Attorney at Law

An adoption can be exciting, but the process can also be confusing and stressful if you do not have any prior knowledge. Here are some basics about how the North Carolina adoption process works.

Types of adoption

First, there are a few different types of adoption including relative adoptions of minor children, stepparent adoptions of minor children, and adult adoptions. This article will focus on stepparent adoptions as there are differences in how the types of adoptions are completed. Stepparent adoptions are one of the most common types of adoption.

How does a stepparent adopt a child?

For a stepparent adoption, first there must be a marriage to one of the child’s parents. There is no distinction for same sex or opposite sex partners as long as there is legal marriage. If there is no legal marriage, you cannot qualify for a stepparent adoption.

Next, the child must be eligible to be adopted. This can be accomplished in a few different ways. Some of those ways include that the other biological parent is deceased, the other biological parent consents to the adoption, or the other biological parent has had their parental rights terminated. If the other biological parent is alive and does not consent to the adoption, it is likely that you will have to proceed with a termination of parental rights petition to complete the adoption. [More information about a termination of parental rights will be discussed below.]

If the child is at least 12 years old at the time of the adoption, the child will also have to consent to the adoption.  

The stepparent must provide a federal and state criminal background check. While these are not expensive to obtain, the wait time for the federal background check results can be lengthy. This may end up being the longest part of the adoption process. The stepparent will need to provide the clerk’s office with a certified copy of their marriage license and a certified copy of the birth certificate of the minor child. If the child was born in North Carolina, certified copies of birth certificates can be requested either online or in person at the county register of deeds office.

A stepparent may also be required to submit to a home study, but this can be waived by the court in certain circumstances. A home study can involve submitting financial records, home visits, background checks, and other personal information to an agency who would inform the court if they think the adoption is appropriate.

Once all the above are completed, the adoption petition can be filed with the clerk’s office. From then, there is a 90-day waiting period for the adoption to be completed. though this period can also be waived by the clerk’s office.

Once the adoption is complete, the clerk of court will send notice to North Carolina Vital Records and a new birth certificate for the child will be issued that will list the adopting parent and the child’s new name if the petition requests that the child’s name be changed.

Termination of parental rights

So, what if the other biological parent will not consent to the adoption? That is when it may be best to move forward with a termination of their rights.

In North Carolina, there are several grounds for termination of parental rights which can include the following:

  1. The child is being abused or neglected.
  2. The parent committed a serious crime against either the other parent or a sibling of the child.
  3. The parent has abandoned the child.
  4. The parent is under a court order to pay child support and has willfully failed to pay support for at least one year.
  5. The parent is incapable of caring for the minor child. 

Each of these grounds is distinct, but at least one condition must be present before the court would consider terminating the rights of the parent. The court will also appoint an attorney to represent the other parent if the parent cannot afford an attorney.

Need help with an adoption or termination of parental rights? Contact our office to make an appointment to discuss your options