Even though stepfathers, in many circumstances, have been heavily involved in raising and building emotional ties with a child, they cannot legally be awarded visitation rights in Georgia paternity laws unless they have gone through the process of legally adopting that child or entering into an agreement with the child’s legal parents. (As of 6/27/18, a state House Bill giving stepparents rights is going to the Senate floor. Also, there are a few outlying cases where a stepparent has custody or visitation despite no contract/adoption being in place.) Of course, once a child reaches the age of 18 or becomes legally emancipated, the child can choose with whom to live or visit.
Stepfather Adoption and Obtaining Parental Rights
If a stepfather is concerned about maintaining certain legal, parental rights with respect to a child, (presuming that, as a spouse, he meets the basic requirements mandated by Georgia law with respect to being generally eligible), he can seek to adopt the child under any one of these circumstances:
- When the child’s biological father is no longer living, and with the mother’s consent;
- Presuming the child’s biological parents are not married to each other, the biological father voluntarily surrenders his parental rights in writing (not required if the biological parent has had no contact with the child, and has failed to provide support for at least 12 months), while the mother also consents to the adoption, in writing;
- If the biological father has failed to maintain a meaningful parental relationship or pay child support for a year or more, the biological father’s rights may be terminated and the stepparent may adopt the child over objection.
It is important to note that, if the child is 14 years or older, he or she must also consent to the adoption. The process is initiated by working with an experienced fathers’ rights attorney to file a Petition for Stepparent Adoption. Once a stepfather adopts the child, he has the same legal parental rights as a biological parent, meaning that he can seek custody/visitation rights upon divorce. The stepfather will also want to discuss whether a surname change is desired in the adoption.