If your spouse already had children when you got married, you may feel like their kids are your kids. The children might call you “Mom” or “Dad,” and you could already be living your lives as if you are just as much their parent as your spouse is.

But legally, you are not your stepchildren’s parent. Does that matter? It could, depending on happens in the future. For example, if you and your spouse get divorced, or if your spouse dies, you may not have any legal right to keep the kids or even have visitation time with them. To prevent this heartbreaking outcome, consider stepparent adoption.

The rules for adopting stepchildren in North Carolina

Though stepparent adoption is often easier than adopting a child from outside your family, North Carolina law still imposes certain requirements. First, your spouse must have legal and physical custody of their child, and the child must have lived with you and your spouse for at least six months; or, if your spouse has died, the spouse must have had custody, and the child must have lived with you for at least six months before you can petition to adopt.

Also, the child’s other biological parent typically has the choice to consent to your adoption or contest it. If you adopt your stepchild, the noncustodial biological parent will lose all their parental rights, so contests do happen. When they do, there will be a hearing before a family court judge, where you and your attorney will present your case that it is in your stepchild’s best interests to allow the adoption to proceed.

Find out more about stepparent adoption

To best understand the process of adopting your stepchildren, so you don’t make a crucial mistake, you should consult a family law attorney who helps families with adoption.