Adoption, family in front of house

A Colorado stepparent adoption is one of the most common of adoptions. Because the legal system recognizes that the child’s best interests are often best served by a step-parent who has been filling the role of parent officially becoming the child’s legal parent, there is even a simplified legal process for a step parent adoption in Colorado.

Read on for an overview of that simplified Colorado stepparent adoption process, as well as explaining the legal implications of an adoption.

Eligibility of for Colorado Stepparent Adoption

There are some basic requirements that must be met before a stepparent can file for adoption:

  1. The stepparent must be a resident of Colorado and a resident of the county in which the adoption is filed. C.R.S. 10-5-204.
  2. Be over 21 years of age. C.R.S. 19-5-202(1).
  3. File a Petition for Adoption with the Colorado Courts.
  4. File the custodial parent’s approval of the adoption.
  5. Consent of the child to be adopted, if the child is over 12 years of age. C.R.S. 19-5-203(2).
  6. Non-custodial parent’s consent, if applicable. C.R.S. 19-5-203(1)(d)(II)
  7. If the non-custodial parent does not consent, or is deceased or whereabouts are unknown, the step-parent must show that he/she has abandoned the child. C.R.S. 19-5-203(1)(d)(II). See below for details.

Unsurprisingly, the most difficult requirement in many Colorado stepparent adoption cases is getting the non-custodial parent’s consent. Even if the non-custodial parent has been completely unsupportive or has never had a relationship with the child, giving consent to the adoption can be a very difficult step to take, because it entails relinquishing parental rights to their child.

Prove Abandonment to Adopt Stepchild

If the biological parent does not consent to the stepparent adoption, the custodial parent and step parent wishing to adopt must file a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights. Colorado adoption law (C.R.S. 19-5-203(II)) provides two grounds for terminating parental rights over the objection of the biological parent:

  1. Failure to pay reasonable child support for one year or more preceding the filing of the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights, or
  2. Failure to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child for one year or more preceding the filing of the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights.

In layperson’s terms, these factors mean the biological parent has abandoned the child for a year or more.

Nonpayment of Child Support

If a parent cares so little about the child that she does not see her son, chances are she may have significant child support arrears. So the court’s analysis will often include consideration of the biological parent’s child support payment history even prior to the year immediately preceding the filing. E.R.S.

(The link between nonpayment of child support and parenting rights is a one-way one. Because “a child’s right to support is unaffected by the misconduct of his parents” a parent cannot withhold child support based upon the custodial parent wrongfully withholding the child from him. Petrash, at 139.)

No Meaningful Relationship with Child

Courts have also addressed what constitutes a meaningful relationship for purposes of a stepparent adoption in Colorado. Generally, a parent sending the occasional birthday or christmas card or gift will not constitute a meaningful relationship, whereas in-person contact even if not on a regular basis can constitute a meaningful relationship.

Parents holding hands of young girl between them.

In many cases the parent whose rights are at stake will claim that they were unable to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child because the other parent prevented them from doing so. If the parent whose rights are at stake has never filed anything with the Court asserting their rights, this defense is not a strong one. I.E.H.

The Court can terminate the parental rights and allow the step-parent adoption for either of the above reasons. It is not necessary that you prove both grounds. And without the biological parent’s consent to adopt, the grounds to terminate must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. C.R.S. 19-05-105(3.1).

Stepparent Adoption in Child’s Best Interests

Beyond proving abandonment by non-payment of support or having no meaningful relationship with the child, the court must also find that the adoption is in the child’s best interests.

Step-Parent Adoption Process in Colorado Courts

Adopting Parent Background checks.

Colorado adoption laws require that a parent wishing to adopt a child complete three background checks before even starting the adoption process:

The process of adoption typically takes a few months. The background checks typically take 60-90 days to complete. When the initial pleadings are filed, they are served on the Non-Custodial parent. That person then has thirty-five (35) days to respond. The hearing on termination of parental rights then takes place. If the Court terminates the non-custodial parent’s rights that parent then has forty-nine (49) days to file an appeal. The hearing to finalize the adoption is then held after that time has run.

The cost of an adoption varies. If the Non-custodial parent consents to the adoption, the costs are lower because there is no need for a contested hearing. What is required is that a statement of fees and costs be filed into the case so that there is a record of the cost to the adoptive parent.

File the Colorado Stepparent Adoption Pleadings

File the required pleadings in the district court where the adopting parent lives, along with the results of the background check. Those documents are:

  • Affidavit of Abandonment
  • Consent to Adoption by Custodial Parent
  • Consent to Adoption by Non-Custodial Parent
  • Notice of Adoption Proceedings
  • Notice of Filing with Background Checks attached
  • Notice of Initial Appearance
  • Petition for Step-Parent Adoption
  • Petition to Terminate Parent-Child Relationship
  • Verified Statement of Fees Charged
  • Final Decree of Adoption
  • Report of Adoption

Note that the petition must be filed within 90 days of the background check date.

If the biological parent does not consent to the adoption, the Court will schedule a hearing on the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights. At that hearing, the adoptive parent must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the abandonment grounds set out above (biological parent failed to pay reasonable support or maintain a relationship with the child as described above)

The court must also find that it is in the child’s best interest to terminate the biological parent’s rights and rule that the child is available for adoption by the step-parent. If the court terminates parental rights at the hearing over the objection of the biological parent, that parent then has forty-nine (49) days to appeal that ruling.

Schedule Stepparent Adoption Hearing

If the biological parent has consented to the adoption, or at least 49 days have passed since the ruling terminating parental rights, the Colorado court will then schedule the actual adoption hearing.

At this hearing, the court will rule as to whether adoption is in the best interest of the child and confirm that the adopting parent is aware of the rights and responsibilities they are assuming as the child’s legal parent.

The court will then grant the adoption. A Report of Adoption is sent to Colorado Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics and a new birth certificate is issued listing the adoptive parent as the child’s parent.

Implications of a Stepparent Adoption in Colorado

It is important for the adoptive parent to understand that once the adoption is granted, that parent is that child’s legal parent just as if he were the child’s biological parent.

There are no “takebacks” after an adoption. If the spouses later divorce, the adoptive parent would have parenting rights as well as support obligations. In addition, that child-parent relationship is permanent for all purposes to include estate planning and inheritance.

It is also important for the adoptive parent and spouse to understand that when the biological parent’s rights are terminated, any child support arrears are forfeited and the parent whose rights were terminated has no right to parenting time or decision-making with regard to the child.

If the would-be adoptive parent is not yet ready for this lifetime commitment of being a parent, there are alternatives to a stepparent adoption in Colorado, including a name change so the child feels part of the family, and if the spouses were to separate or divorce, a stepparent may even be able to obtain court-ordered visitation over the child.

Finally, while an adoption terminates the other biological parent’s rights, it does NOT terminate a third party who has visitation based upon being the child’s psychological parent.

UCCJEA Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Over Child

Note that a Colorado stepparent adoption requires UCCJEA jurisdiction to terminate a parent’s rights. For a complete discussion of the parenting jurisdictional issues, see our Parenting Jurisdiction article in the Colorado Family Law Guide.

Colorado Stepparent Adoption FAQ

What is an adoption?

Adoption is a legal process where a child’s birth parent’s rights are permanently terminated and an adoptive parent assumes permanent rights and responsibilities for that child. Once complete, this is permanent and the adoptive parent has the same rights and responsibilities as a birth parent.

Who can adopt in Colorado?

There are actually very few limitations on who can adopt a child in Colorado. Anyone over the age of 21 who can pass a criminal background check through the FBI, the CBI, and Colorado Department of Human Services TRAILS database can adopt.

How long does the adoption process take in Colorado?

The time to complete an adoption in Colorado varies widely from case to case. Adopting an infant can be completed in as little as 6 months, whereas other adoptions can take much longer. Expect the process to take about a year in most cases other than infant adoptions.

Can a child’s birth parents take the child after adoption?

No. Once parental rights have been terminated by the Court and the child ruled available for adoption, the birth parents cannot later try to get back into the child’s life. When a court terminates parental rights after a contested hearing, the birth parent has 49 days to appeal, and after that, has no recourse.

How much does it cost to adopt a child?

For the background checks, filing and service of process alone, expect to pay up to $400. Beyond that there will be attorney’s fees, which vary depending on the facts of the case and how much time is required to complete the adoption. It is worth noting that the adopting party is required to file a Statement of Fees and Costs with the Court.

Do I need an attorney to adopt?

It depends. There is no legal requirement to have an attorney to adopt a child in Colorado, but it is a good idea to retain an experienced adoption attorney to make sure you comply with the legal requirements, particularly if the adoption is contested.

If you are considering a Colorado stepparent adoption or have questions or concerns about taking this step, the attorneys at Graham.Law are experienced in these cases and can give you the information you need and answer any questions you have.

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