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Under Missouri law an adoption of a minor child by a step-parent is a two (2) step proceeding. First, the rights of the child’s natural parent who the adoptive step parent will be replacing must have his or her parental rights terminated. Second, following the termination of parental rights the court must find that the adoption is in the best interest of the child, and enter a judgment of adoption.
Termination of Parental Rights
Before a court may enter a judgment of adoption the parental rights of the natural parent to be replaced must be terminated. In general parental rights may be terminated for one of the following reasons:
- Consent of the parent whose rights will be terminated executed in writing before a notary and filed with the court; or
- The parent whose rights will be terminated has for a period of at least six (6) months, if the child is one (1) year or older, or at least sixty (60) days if the child is under one (1) year of age willfully abandoned the child or has substantially and continuously neglected to provide for the child with necessary care and protection.
The relevant period of time concerning abandonment or neglect under section 2 above is the six (6) months or sixty (60) days immediately preceding the filing date of the petition for adoption. Once the petition is filed, the parent whose rights are requested to be terminated generally cannot rehabilitate him or herself by then seeking time with the child thereafter. Instead, the court will look to what contact, if any, existed during the relevant time period prior to the filing date.
Furthermore, token contacts with the minor child such as an only occasional call or letter, or token gifts such as a toy at Christmas may be found insufficient to forestall a court finding of abandonment or neglect. However, each case is fact specific, and must be determined by the court based on the totality of circumstances and conduct of the parties.
Home Study and Background Checks
Prior to granting an adoption the court also may require a home study and background check of all adults residing in the adoptive home. During a home study a social worker will visit the home of the adoptive parent’s and file a report on the conditions thereof with the court. In the case of an adoption by a step-parent, however, the requirement of such home study is generally waived so long as the parties have been married for at least six months residing with the child to be adopted. This can save substantial time and money for the parties.
The court also will generally require the parties to the adoption to be finger printed for the purpose of a criminal background check. Unlike the home study, this requirement generally cannot be waived.
Effect of Adoption
Upon entry of a judgment of adoption the adoptive parent will be treated the same as a biological parent, including all rights and obligations thereof. This will generally include the child’s birth certificate being amended to name the adoptive parent as the father or mother of the child. If requested by the parties the child’s last name may also be changed to match the parties’ married last name. The adoption will also cut off the biological parent whose rights were terminated from seeking custody or visitation with the child, and will furthermore terminate any obligation of such parent to pay child support.
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