Updated: May 13
In most states, a step-parent adoption is an easier process than other adoptions, and Montana is no exception. For good reasons, the process is streamlined when a person already acting as a parent is looking to adopt a child. In Montana, if the court is satisfied that the adoption is in the best interests of the child, it can waive the preplacement evaluation and the six-month postplacement evaluation requirements.
After the adoption, the relationship of parent and child and all the rights, duties, and other legal consequences of the relationship exists between the adoptee and the adoptive parent. The former parents are relieved of all parental responsibilities and have no rights over the adoptee except for a former parent’s duty to pay arrearages for child support.
The adoption also has an immediate impact on probate law and the rules for intestate succession. This governs what happens to a person’s property if they die without a will. Although many people believe that the government will get their property and finances if they die without a will, that’s not the case. Instead, there are rules in the law for who the property goes to if you die without a will. For a parent who dies leaving children, his property goes to his children in equal shares. And an adopted child receives the same as any other child. In other adoptions, the adoptee child does not inherit from his former parent (if that parent does without a will), but in the case of a step-parent adoption that’s not the case. There are a number of small differences in this type of adoption, and it’s important that you’re aware of them all before pursuing this course.
If you decide to pursue a step-parent adoption, the first step is to file a petition with the District Court in the county where the child and step-parent live. This asks the court to create a parent-child relationship between the child and the step-parent. The process involves substituting one parent for another. In some cases, the other parent has died or completely disappeared and this isn’t an issue. In other situation, the parent is around but not very involved. Despite an apparent lack of interest, the original parent may still raise a ruckus when asked to give up his rights. Making the original parent aware of the step-parent adoption, and giving him an opportunity to participate in it is absolutely vital to a successful action. You can’t force the original parent to participate, but if you don’t give him a real option you’ll have problems later.
Montana Step-Parent Adoptions require a number of different legal documents: Petition for Stepparent Adoption; Agreement to Accept Temporary Custody; Waiver of Parental Rights; Consent to Stepparent Adoption; Child’s Consent to Stepparent Adoption (if the child is 12 or older). And then there are two orders from the Court: 1) an Order Setting Hearing; and 2) an Affidavit of Inability to Pay.