My Experience Adopting a Step-Child in South Carolina
In 2004 I was lucky enough to marry a wonderful woman and settled down into married bliss. Accompanying my new bride was her lovely 10 year-old daughter from a previous marriage, my new step-daughter.
Being new to parenting, we took things slow for a while and learned to live together as a family. After three years of our new family life I was thrilled when, over the Christmas 2007 holiday, she asked if I would adopt her.
The question was, what do we do now? Neither of us had gone through the adoption process before and we were unsure of where to turn. It seems like it should be a simple thing to do but we knew that we wanted it done right and within a certain time line so we went to an attorney friend to help us through the process.
Hiring an Attorney
This is an important part of the process. There are a variety of legal issues involving adoptions and name changes and the technicalities can be daunting without help. Seemingly unconnected things can have an impact on the process such as terrorism, crime and tax evasion questions when changing your name. Our lawyer helped us wade through the paperwork and technicalities of the process.
Hiring an attorney was an easy choice for us because we knew one who could help. If you do not know one personally you can ask other people for references or try the Find a Lawyer program of the SC Bar Association.
The hardest part of the process for us was waiting for our request to be scheduled before the judge. The adoption process was taking place in the summer between 8th and 9th grade. We wanted the process completed prior to the start of high school so she could go in with her new name from the start.
My wife had the most difficult part of the process. When we got married she kept her maiden name. When we started the adoption process she decided she would change her name too. She had to go through a background check and answer lots of questions about why she was changing her name. The court wanted to make sure she was not evading taxes, that she was not some other kind of criminal or a terrorist.
I, personally, had to do very little. I filled out the initial paperwork, had a brief interview with the guardian ad litem appointed for our daughter and that was basically it. Our daughter also went through an interview with the guardian ad litem to ensure that she really did want the adoption.
We finally received a court date that allowed us to meet our adoption timeline. The hearing before the judge was very friendly and brief. These are some of the best cases for family court judges. They hear a lot about bad family situations and are happy to see the good cases come their way. We walked out as the same family we were before but somehow closer at the same time.
After the Court
The process is not over when the judge signs the paperwork. First, you need to wait for the actual paperwork to be delivered so you can start the next steps. This took longer than we imagined but it finally did arrive. We then needed to go through all the name change steps for my wife- license, bank accounts, utility bills, credit cards, etc. We also had to obtain a new birth certificate and social security card for my daughter. Those were confusing and bureaucratic processes that each may get an article of their own.
The legal process probably took about seven months. Changing all the names and getting the new birth certificate and social security card took another 4 months. This amounts to a total of 11 months from start to finish. This was a great investment of our family’s time.
A Word about “The Other Parent”
We were “lucky” because her biological father had terminated his parental rights in the divorce settlement. This meant that we did not have to get his approval to proceed with the adoption. I have heard horror stories about uninvolved parents holding up the process out of spite or to try to gain some financial advantage. Hopefully this will never happen to you. This is just another reason to hire an attorney to help you through the process.
Tips to Remember
- Hire an attorney
- Know your schedule and plan accordingly
- Make sure your paperwork is in order to avoid delays
- Consider how to deal with “the other parent” early in the process
- Keep track of your costs – adoption costs were tax deductible the year we processed the adoption