November is more than just fall weather and Thanksgiving, it is National Adoption Month!
As a family law attorney, one of my favorite types of cases are adoptions. Family law attorneys tend to deal with the heartbreak that comes with families in crisis, but adoptions provide an opportunity to create new bonds in a family. While the process is often time consuming and complex, the outcome of bringing individuals together to create or expand a family is incredibly rewarding and heartwarming. We have had many positive experiences with both private adoptions and adoptions through the Department of Human Services in Oklahoma.
One particular area of adoption that I am passionate about is stepparent adoption. Stepparent adoption is more than having the same last name within a family; it is about making a commitment to your spouse and to his or her child. Legally adopting your stepchild is an act of love that will never be forgotten.
The process of stepparent adoption is more complicated than most clients realize. The legal requirements of a stepparent adoption begin with filing a petition, summons, and entry of appearance with the district court. The difficult part of the process is that the other biological parent of the child (who still has legal rights to the child) must be served. Parental consent to the adoption by the biological parent often creates an issue, so we always ask our clients if the other parent is agreeable to the stepparent adoption. In cases where the other biological parent is agreeable, the attorney on the matter then works towards terminating that biological parent’s parental rights to the child. If the biological parent with rights being terminated is the child’s father, the court will either allow extrajudicial consent to terminate the rights, or the father must testify prior to terminating his rights. However, it does depend on the jurisdiction and judge on which option is exercised. If the biological parent terminating rights is child’s mother, she must testify in court on the record before her parental rights are terminated.
In instances where the biological parent does not consent to the stepparent adoption, the attorney on the matter must file an Application to Adjudicate Without Consent of the Natural Parent, known as AWOC, and set it for a court hearing. After the AWOC is filed with the corresponding documents, notice is given to the biological parent pursuant to the state’s statutory requirements. If the biological parent or their attorney appears on that hearing date, the judge will set the case for trial. If neither the biological parent nor their attorney appears for the hearing, the judge will sign an order to allow the adoption to proceed. However, it is important to know that anytime up until the adoption is finalized, the biological parent can file an objection to the court in regards to the adoption. This objection will then trigger their right to a trial regarding the adoption.
For an adoption to be approved in Oklahoma, the statutory documents that must be submitted to court are the following:
- Affidavits for nondisclosure
- Birth certificate
- Consent of children (if they are 12 years old or older)
- Consents of birth mothers and transcripts
- Adoptive Family Affidavit
- Disclosure Statement of Adoption-Related Costs and Expenditures
- Criminal background check, sexual offenders check and child abuse and neglect check
- Full disclosure statements
- Home study (this is waived if the adopting parent and the biological parent have been married for more than 1 year)
- Medical and social history report
- Native American heritage statement
- Orders terminating parental rights
The adopting stepparent needs to obtain two fingerprint cards from their local police station, along with a check, and the national fingerprint background check form to submit to DHS. The national fingerprint background check is for doing an OSBI/FBI background check on the stepparent. The adopting stepparent must also sign off on a Child Abuse Neglect Information Systems form, which their attorney will submit to DHS. This is to ensure that the adopting stepparent has no adverse DHS history. This process may take approximately 4-8 weeks. Once all documents and results are obtained, your attorney will file the documents with the court and obtain a final adoption hearing date. Upon obtaining a final court date, the attorney will send a notice to the biological parent notifying them of the final adoption hearing date.
At that court date, the adopting stepparent and the other biological parent should be prepared to testify before the judge. The judge will often talk to the adopting parent, the biological parent, and the child being adopted if the child is old enough. In our experience, this is a joyous occasion, and pre-COVID, judges would allow family members to be present and photos to be taken.
Despite the lengthy process for stepparent adoptions, it has always been a joyous experience to witness new bonds made within a family. It can help bring stepparents and their stepchild together, join a family through changing their surname, and create a special and legal bond between them.
Katherine Mazaheri-Franze is an Oklahoma City “law mom” of 4 children of a blended, multiracial, and multilingual family. She has 5 year old boy/girl twins, a 7 year old, and a step-daughter currently attending the University of Oklahoma.
During the day, she works full time as Founder and Managing Attorney of the Mazaheri Law Firm and at night she’s an insta-pot home chef, boogie-monster eradicator, and trying to stay awake long enough to occasionally be the tooth fairy.
A portion of Katherine’s trial practice is devoted to assisting families in times of crisis. She assists clients with divorce, custody and visitation, property division, victim protective orders, and step-parent adoptions. Along with divorce, she assists couples in negotiation of pre-nuptial agreements and protection of assets.
Her heart for social justice has influenced her passion for employment litigation involving claims of wrongful discharge, sexual harassment/assault, employment discrimination (based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, and disability), retaliation, as well as disputes involving wage and hour matters, medical leave, confidentiality and non-compete agreements, employee handbook and company policy violations and breaches of employment agreements. As the Founder and Managing Attorney of the Mazaheri Law Firm she is proud of leading an all-female team of attorneys who for over a decade have gained a powerful reputation for taking on cases that attack various social injustices leading to extensive recoveries for clients with compassion and integrity.