By Lieutenant Leigha Fassett, JAGC, USN
The process of adopting your stepchild can seem like too daunting of a task to navigate, but courts in Washington are making it easier. This is especially true if you live in Snohomish County. Why? Because the Snohomish County Courthouse, located in Everett, has streamlined the adoption process for stepparents.
Local judges are no longer requiring criminal background checks or expensive home studies in most cases. Regardless of whether you live in Snohomish, your local Naval Legal Service Office can help. Here’s a breakdown of the steps you will need to take to adopt your step-child.
Step 1: Ensure that you qualify for JAG assistance in adopting your step-child.
Our offices have four requirements that you must be able to satisfy to proceed with the adoption:
1. The step-parent must be married to the child’s custodial natural parent for at least one year;
2. The other natural parent (known as the relinquishing natural parent) must sign a consent form, which will be prepared by our office;
3. The step-parent and custodial natural parent must sign a letter prepared by our office that allows us to represent both of you at the same time
4. The child cannot be of American Native or Alaskan Native ancestry.
Step 2: Schedule an appointment with an attorney and complete the necessary paperwork.
If the above requirements are met, schedule an appointment with an attorney at one of the Naval Legal Service Office Northwest (NLSO NW) offices. During the initial consultation, you will be asked to sign the dual representation letter and complete a questionnaire. The attorney will use the completed questionnaire to draft the relinquishing parent’s consent form.
The attorney will also discuss whether the facts of your case necessitate a criminal background check, home study and the preparation of a preplacement report. In most cases, these won’t be necessary, but you should be aware that a judge could require them under certain circumstances, and satisfying these additional requirements can be a lengthy and expensive process.
Schedule a follow-up appointment with the attorney. At this time you will return the completed consent form, which must be signed by the relinquishing parent in the presence of a witness (preferably, a notary). The attorney would then draft the remaining court documents, have you sign and notarize them, and explain how to file them at the local courthouse. The attorney will also discuss with you what to expect at the scheduled hearing and how to handle the final paperwork.
It’s important to keep in mind that once the Decree of Adoption is signed by the judge, the adoption is complete and the relinquishing natural parent no longer has any legal ties to the child. Conversely, the step-parent is now an adoptive parent, with all the legal rights and responsibilities of a natural parent.
Please contact your nearest NLSO NW office for more information or to schedule an appointment with a legal assistance attorney.