Stepparent Adoption in Florida

June 3, 2015

It is common for a parent to remarry after a divorce. One important issue in remarriages involving stepchildren is the legal relationship between the child and the stepparent. In Florida, a stepparent has no parental rights over a child and has no responsibilities toward the child. Only biological or adoptive parents have these rights and duties. However, in some circumstances a stepparent may adopt a child.

Eligibility to Adopt a Stepchild

The first step is to determine whether the stepparent is legally eligible to adopt. Under Florida law, married spouses are eligible to adopt. However, if a person has a physical disability or handicap that renders him or her incapable of being an effective parent, that person will not be eligible to adopt.

Previously, homosexual couples could not use stepparent adoption procedures because they could not get married under Florida law. However, since January of this year, same-sex marriage has been legal in Florida, and so a homosexual stepparent would be eligible for the same adoption procedures as an opposite-sex stepparent.

Consent and Termination of Parental Rights

The next step in the adoption process is to obtain the other biological parent’s consent, or to find that consent is not needed. Adoption by a stepparent, like any other adoption, means the termination of the biological parent’s rights. Terminating the biological parent’s rights is very difficult if the parent is still involved in the child’s life and does not consent to the termination.

If the other parent consents, the consent must be in writing and be notarized. However, there are some circumstances in which consent is not required:

  • If the parent has abandoned the child
  • If the parent’s rights have been terminated in a different proceeding
  • If the parent is declared competent and has little chance of becoming competent, e.g., the parent is in a coma and likely will not come out of it.

There are several circumstances that can result in a parent’s rights being terminated, including if the parent voluntarily surrendered parental rights, endangered the life or health of the child or a sibling, was incarcerated for a certain amount of time, or if the child was adjudicated dependent and the parent did not comply with the case plan.

Petition for Adoption

After obtaining consent or finding that consent is not necessary, the stepparent must file a petition for adoption with the circuit court where he or she lives. The petition must be notarized and must include certain information, such as the child’s name and date of birth, any name change for the child, how long the stepparent has cared for the child, the reasons the stepparent wishes to adopt, etc.

The stepparent must then provide notice of the petition to the other parent, and inform him or her of when the adoption hearing will be held.

Hearing

If the other parent consents, the adoption hearing may be held immediately after providing notice of the hearing. Once the order approving the adoption is signed by the judge, the other biological parent’s rights are terminated, if they have not already been terminated. This means that the other parent’s rights to visit the child and make decisions about raising the child are terminated, along with any obligation to make child support payments. If the stepparent and the parent later divorce, the stepparent still has parental rights.

Negotiating parental rights after a divorce can be a tricky issue, and an experienced attorney can help you navigate this sensitive area. If you are dealing with parental rights issues, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.