Adopting a stepchild in Arkansas is generally a relatively simple matter, unless the adoption is contested. If his spouse is the biological mother, for example, a stepfather can get permission from the biological father and adopt their child. The stepfather has the legal responsibility for the child, and the biological father’s parental rights end.

This is equally true in the case of a child living with the biological father. If the biological mother gives her permission, the stepmother can adopt the child.

These are examples of an uncontested adoption.

What’s a contested adoption?

If a stepparent wants to adopt, but the child’s other biological parent will not agree, then they have a contested adoption on their hands. The father of the child, for example, can say that he is not willing to give up his parental rights and allow the birth mother’s husband to adopt the child. The father in this case has chosen to contest the adoption.

Termination of parental rights

The stepparent in this case can still adopt the child if the court decides to terminate the father’s parental rights. That means that the c out, without the father’s consent, determines that he no longer has legal rights relating to the child.

One of the most common reasons for this decision is abandonment — which means that the biological father has not provided support for the child or been in contact for a year. Under Arkansas law, that separation of parent and child counts as abandonment. A court can determine that the father has given up his parental rights at that point, and can terminate his parental rights.

It’s important to note that the year of failure to contact doesn’t have to last up to the court case. For example, if the biological father in our example has not been in contact for a year, but after being asked to agree to the adoption he swoops into the child’s life with presents and trips to the zoo, that doesn’t change the presumption of abandonment.

Parental rights can also be terminated if the court determines that the biological parent is an unfit parent. That decision can be based on physical abuse or neglect of the child, incarceration of the parent, substance abuse, mental health struggles, or other factors that show that it is not in the child’s best interests for the biological parent to maintain their parental rights.

Best interest hearing

If the court doesn’t find sufficient evidence for termination of parental rights, the adoption might be halted or a “best interest hearing” might be scheduled

In this hearing, the court determines which household provides the best environment for the child’s well-being. Both contesting parties and the adoptive parents can present evidence about their living situation, stability, and ability to care for the child. If the child is 12 years old or older, and in some other cases, the judge may ask the child privately which parents he or she would prefer to live with.

The judge makes the final decision based on the child’s best interests.

Contested adoptions are complex legal situation, and they are usually emotionally charged. Consulting with an experienced adoption attorney in Arkansas is crucial to navigate the legalities effectively and represent your interests in court. Heimer Law has the experience, the expertise, and the compassion you need at this difficult time. Use our simple inquiry form to reach out to us and begin the conversation.

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