Divorced parents often remarry, though remarriage generally does not affect a person’s legal parental status. Sometimes, one parent has become uninvolved with a child’s life, and relationships deteriorate. A stepparent may fill that role and want to adopt the child. An attorney can help parents and stepparents navigate stepparent adoptions in Florida.Who May Adopt
In Florida, stepparents may adopt as long as they go through a certain legal process. The first step is to ensure that the stepparent is legally eligible to adopt in Florida. Florida law specifically allows stepparents to adopt, but if a disability or handicap prevents a person from being an effective parent, he or she will be ineligible to adopt a stepchild.Petition for Adoption
If the stepparent is eligible, he or she must then file a notarized petition with the circuit court in the county in which he or she lives. The petition must contain certain information, including:
- The stepchild’s date and place of birth;
- Any new name to be given to the stepchild;
- How long the child has resided with the stepparent;
- The name, age, and residence of the stepparent;
- A statement that the stepparent is capable of caring for the child; and
- The reasons the stepparent wishes to adopt.
The petition must also include information about the termination of parental rights. This is done either by making a statement of the case in which rights were terminated, or providing information about parental consent, including the name and address of each parent who must consent, whether each parent has consented, and, for a parent who has not consented, the facts establishing the lack of need for consent.
If the child to be adopted is at least 12 years old, he or she must consent to the adoption unless the court determines that it in the child’s best interest not to require consent.Parental Consent
A child’s mother and legal father must consent to the child’s adoption if they have parental rights in the child. Almost always in a stepparent adoption, the parent married to the stepparent will consent. A parent may consent to an adoption by signing a notarized writing. In the consent, the parent not married to the stepparent gives up his or her parental rights to the child, but the married parent retains full parental rights.
There are some situations in Florida in which a parent’s consent is not necessary:
- The parent has deserted or abandoned the child;
- The parent’s parental rights were terminated in another proceeding; or
- The parent is declared incompetent, and there is little chance of regaining competency.
Once the stepparent files the adoption petition, he or she must give notice to all parties concerned. Notice includes a copy of the petition, along with the date and time of the adoption hearing. If both parents consent, the adoption hearing, at which a judge finalizes the adoption, can happen without delay.Consequences
The consequences of a stepparent adoption are permanent. The parent who is not married to the stepparent has his or her parental rights terminated. This means that there is no longer any child support requirement, but also no visitation rights or childrearing decision-making authority. The stepparent now has those responsibilities, and if the stepparent divorces the other parent, the stepparent may be responsible for child support.
If you are considering adopting a stepchild, an attorney can help you understand the legal effects and help you through the process. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein to schedule a free consultation.