Article written by Rosemary Bocska
Did you know that November is National Adoption Month? It’s the time of year when the process of adopting a child is given special focus all across Canada, through public-awareness initiatives and themed events. It’s also the time for acknowledging those individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by adoption in various ways.
With this important public-awareness goal in mind, we take the opportunity to talk about the law that covers a particular adoption scenario: A stepparent adopting a stepchild (meaning the biological child of his or her romantic partner).
The Basic Law:
First, we need to cover the basic concept of adoption. It’s a legal process that establishes a permanent parent-child relationship between an adult and a child who are not biologically related.
In Ontario, it’s mainly governed by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, which sets out the requirements. The Act covers adoptions by extended family members, stepparents, and new parents who are not otherwise part of the child’s family (i.e. adoptions through an agency).
What Makes a Stepparent Eligible to Adopt?
Under Ontario legislation, the stepparent must be at least 18 years old, and must be a resident of the province.
What About the Other Biological Parent? – The Need for Consent
Not surprisingly, the stepparent cannot simply adopt a child without the permission of the child’s other biological parent. This is because the adoption process legally terminates that other parent’s existing rights and responsibilities for the child.
The other biological parent must therefore give his or her voluntary consent. It can only be dispensed with where: 1) that parent’s rights have already been terminated by law; or 2) the Court has declared it appropriate to do so, based on the child’s best interests. This last scenario might arise where the other biological parent cannot be located, for example.
What’s the Procedure?
To apply for an adoption, the stepparent must take several steps:
- File an application directly with the Ontario Court. This is done with Form 8D Application (adoption) under the Family Law Rules Forms, and includes information about the stepparent, the child, and the biological parent who is giving up his or her rights.
- Give notice. All involved parties must be given written notice of the adoption application. This includes the child, if he or she is of sufficient age and maturity.
- Get consent. As mentioned, the other biological parent’s formal consent needs to be obtained.
If a judge orders it, a home study by a licensed social worker may be required, to assess the suitability of the home environment being proposed for the child.
Considering the Child’s Best Interests
Adoption is more than just an administrative process. It only becomes legally valid once the application has been approved by the Ontario Court.
This involves assessing several factors, including the child's age, emotional well-being, relationship with each of the biological parents, and the stability of the new family relationship and home shared by the biological parent and the stepparent.
The paramount factor in the Court’s decision is always the child’s best interests. The Court can reject an adoption application if it determines those best interests will not be served.
The Adoption Order
If the Court is satisfied on all fronts, it will issue a final Adoption Order that grants the stepparent full legal rights and responsibilities over the child. A new birth certificate is issued for the child, with the stepparent’s new legal status as adoptive parent formally recognized.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does the stepparent have to be married to the child’s parent, to apply for adoption?
A: No. But the longevity and the stability of the stepparent’s relationship with the child’s biological parent will be one of many factors considered by the Court.
Q: Is adoption allowed if the child’s parent and stepparent are in a same-sex relationship?
Q: Does the other biological parent still get access to the child after the stepparent adopts him or her?
A: Usually, but this depends on the circumstances. The Court may determine how much contact is beneficial to the child post-adoption.