Who's Liable For Child Support When A Stepparent Adopts A Child?

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When people break up and form new relationships, things can become complex if children are involved. One particular complication that can develop is determining who is responsible for paying child support if or when a stepparent chooses to adopt his or her stepchild. On its face, this may seem like an easy question to answer, but there are a few cases where a biological parent may continue to be liable for child support after a stepparent assumes responsibility for the child.

In Normal Cases

When a parent gives a child up for adoption, they are giving up their parental rights to that kid. This means they cannot legally make decisions regarding the child's care or demand custodial or visitation rights. At the same time, they are no longer financially responsible for the child either.

The stepparent who adopts the child takes on that financial duty. Not only is the person responsible for meeting the child's needs while married to the custodial parent, the stepparent can be ordered to pay child support in the event of a divorce.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are a couple of reasons why the court may continue to chase after a biological parent for child support after he or she has signed over parental rights to a stepparent. The most common reason is arrearages. Adoption only eliminates your responsibility for paying child support going forward. It doesn't wipe out any child support you may already owe.

So if you owe $10,000 in child support and were ordered to pay $500 a month to the custodial parent, you won't have to continue paying the $500 once the adoption has been finalized. However, you will be required to continue making payments to the court until the $10,000 in delinquent support has been paid in full.

Another reason why the state may still be taking child support payments from your checks is that the adoption was never finalized. It's not enough for the stepparent to say that he or she wants to adopt your kid or to even file the paperwork with the court. Until the court approves of and signs off on the adoption, you are still legally responsible for the child's welfare and thus required to continue making those payments.

Ending the Child Support Payments

Once the adoption is finalized, the court will end your child support order at the same time. In some cases, though, you may need to notify the family court about the change in legal guardianship, usually because the court did not receive the requisite paperwork. Get copies of the adoption order and submit them to the agency in the state that is collecting the child support (e.g. Department of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania).

If the state contends you are in arrears but you believe you are current in your child support payments, then you may need to file a dispute with the court and submit all of the evidence you have of the payments you made up until the adoption was finalized. Be aware that 35 states charge fees and interest to overdue balances. For example, Arizona charges 10 percent per year on back child support. This may account for the discrepancy.

For those who actually do owe back child support, you may be able to negotiate a settlement with the state. While the court will not reduce the principal due, it may be amendable to removing some of the interest and fees charged to the balance in light of the fact that you are no longer the child's legal parent. It's best to contact a family law attorney for assistance with child support problems that may crop up as the result of adoption or other issues.