Stepparent Adoptions

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stepparent adoptions

At least half of all the finalized adoptions that occur each year are adoptions by stepparents and relatives, although the number of stepparent adoptions is unknown. When stepparents adopt their spouse's children, a HOME STUDY may not be required, depending on state laws.

There has been a surprising lack of research performed on stepparent adoptions despite the increasing numbers of stepparent relationships. A 1988 doctoral dissertation in psychology was researched and written by Elizabeth Heiss on this subject, concentrating on stepfather attitudes toward adoption in their first year of marriage to the child's mother.

Heiss reported on 58 white middle-class stepfathers. Of these, 43 expressed an attitude for or against adopting their stepchildren: 10 stated they had a favorable attitude toward adoption, 18 did not wish to adopt, and the remaining 15 stated they would like to adopt their stepchildren but believed it would be impossible.

Differences were found between the groups; for example, the stepfathers in the "positive" group (wishing to adopt) had a closer and more parental relationship than did the other stepfathers. In addition, the biological father apparently had a weaker relationship with the children than in the groups that did not wish to adopt or felt they could not adopt. Each group stated the importance of the biological father's role in affecting their attitudes towards adoption.

No differences were found between the groups in the quality of the marriage or the age or sex of the children.

A 1987 study of 55 stepparents who had adopted their stepchildren indicated three primary reasons for the adoption. These were to change the name of the child or a result of the adopted child's positive relationship with the stepparent or a desire for stability.

An earlier (1984) Ph.D. dissertation in psychology by Carrie Fancett studied predictors of satisfaction with the stepparent relationship among adolescents. Key factors determining the adolescents' attitudes toward stepparents were whether or not the adolescent believed the stepparent was interested in listening to him or her, whether the religion was the same or not, the frequency of communication between stepparent and stepchild, the stepchild's view of the marital relationship between the parent and the stepparent and other factors.

Factors found not significant were differing views toward discipline by parent and stepparent, contact with the biological parent, the adoption "orientation" (whether adoption was a possible consideration) and the relationship with half-siblings who lived in the household. Fancett recommended an emphasis on "the role that empathy and perception of shared stress play in the adjustment of teenage stepchildren to their stepparents."


Carrie Susan Fancett, "Predictors of Adolescent Stepchildren's Satisfaction with Their Stepparents," Ph.D. diss. University of South Carolina, 1984.

Elizabeth Gwen Heiss, "Stepfather Attitudes Toward Stepparent Adoption During the First Year of Remarriage," Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1988.

P.A. Wolf and E. Mast, "Counseling Issues in Adoptions by Stepparents," Social Work 32:1 (1987): 69-74.

Find more information on stepparent adoptions

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