Last year was a pivotal time in your life. You met a wonderful woman, and you couldn’t imagine spending the rest of your life without her. Then you met her beautiful daughter, and you thought the same thing. You got married, and the three of you became a family—at least emotionally, if not legally.

But now you want to make it official. You want to become your step-daughter’s dad in the eyes of the law. What do you need to know?

Under North Carolina law, there are several requirements to adopting a stepchild:

  • You must have been married to the child’s biological parent for at least six months.
  • Your spouse must have physical and legal custody of the child, and the child must have lived mainly with the two of you for at least six months.
  • If the child is above the age of 12, they must consent to the adoption.
  • In many cases, you must undergo a criminal background check and home examination to verify that the child will be in a safe environment. These requirements can be waived if you’ve been married to the child’s biological parent for a minimum of two years.

Often, the most challenging requirement of stepchild adoption involves obtaining parental rights. In North Carolina, you can’t gain parental rights of a stepchild if two biological parents already have those rights. You need to terminate the parental rights of the absent biological parent first. Typically, this requires the consent of both biological parents.

If you don’t get consent, then you can petition the court to forcibly remove parental rights from the absent parent. In order for such a petition to be successful, you will typically have to prove that there is a serious reason for termination of parental rights, which affects the best interest of the child—e.g., the biological parent has a history of abuse.

Navigating through the stepchild adoption process can be a complex, but the results can also be deeply rewarding. An experienced family law attorney can help make the road easier.