There’s no single right way to have a family. Blended families are becoming more common and showing people the value of non-traditional family units.
However, while blended households are just as loving as traditional ones, they pose some legal complications. If you want to fully merge your family in the eyes of the law, you may need to pursue stepparent adoption. This process allows the stepparent to become a legal parent of their partner’s children, which may be invaluable during emergencies, handling custody, or managing estate plans.
Adoption is a complex process regardless of pre-existing relationships between adopter and adoptee. Here’s what you need to know about stepparent adoption in Florida and how to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Adoption Laws in Florida
Florida recognizes four forms of adoption: stepparent, close relative, adult, and entity (agency) adoptions. Each of these is subject to unique regulations and processes due to the difference in the child’s circumstances.
Stepparent adoption is often the simplest of the four methods because the child has at least one surviving parent to consent to the proceedings on their behalf. However, it still requires prospective adopters to meet several requirements:
- They must currently reside in Florida
- They must be able to “financially and morally” support the child
- They must receive consent from their partner
- If the child has two surviving legal parents, one must have their parental rights terminated
If the adopter can meet these criteria, the court will likely grant their request for adoption once they submit the correct information and attend all necessary hearings.
Terminating Parental Rights in Florida
Frequently, the most complex aspect of stepparent adoption is terminating the parental rights of your partner’s co-parent. If they do not consent, it is necessary to prove that there are grounds to terminate their parental rights under Florida law.
There are many reasons why these rights may be terminated, including:
- Abuse: Committing violence against a child or abusing someone else in their presence may be grounds for parental right termination in Florida.
- Neglect: Failing to provide for children’s basic needs, such as leaving small children home alone for long periods, refusing to feed or clothe them, or refusing to take them to school, are signs of neglect that may forfeit their parental rights.
- Abandonment: Finally, refusing to pay child support or communicate with a co-parent for months at a time may be considered abandonment and grounds to end the relationship.
You can provide evidence for termination of parental rights with your adoption petition if necessary.
What to Expect During Stepparent Adoption
Most couples have not adopted children before, which means they aren’t familiar with how stepparent adoptions work. The process takes time and must be performed carefully to ensure that the courts approve the adoption. It’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced family law attorney to avoid complicated or expensive delays. Your attorney will guide you through the following steps involved in adopting a stepchild:
1. Get Consent If Necessary
In some cases, you may need to request consent from other parties before adopting your stepchild. For example, if your spouse’s co-parent is still alive and has legal parental rights to the child, they may need to agree to the process. This is unnecessary if they are deceased or their parental rights have already been terminated.
In addition, you must get the child’s consent if they are 12 or older. While it isn’t legally necessary to get their permission if the child is younger than 12, family bonding is still good to ensure they’re okay with the adoption before it happens.
2. File Your Petition
Next, you and your partner can file your “Joint Petition for Stepparent Adoption” with the court in the country where you live. Along with the petition, you will need to submit one of the following:
- The form “Stepparent Adoption: Consent and Waiver by Parent”
- The form “Stepparent Adoption: Affidavit of Nonpaternity”
- A certified copy of the deceased parent’s death certificate
If the adoptee is 12 or older, you’ll also submit the form “Stepparent Adoption: Consent of Adoptee” form.
Other forms to be submitted with your petition include:
- “Stepparent Adoption: Motion for Search of the Putative Father Registry”
- “Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit”
- A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate.
3. Schedule and Attend Your Hearing
Once the court has received your petition, your attorney will work with you to schedule your hearing. This is typically a short and friendly meeting with the judge in stepparent adoptions where all documentation is submitted correctly. The judge determines if all procedures have been followed and ensure that the adoption is in the child’s best interests. If so, they will enter a judgment granting you full parental rights and responsibilities toward your new child.
4. Request an Amended Birth Certificate
After the adoption is finalized, your attorney will request a new birth certificate for your child. The new certificate will list your name as their legal parent and remove reference to their prior parent. Their previous certificate will be sealed, and you will be acknowledged as their legal parent in all respects.
Reach Out for Skilled Representation in Adoption and Family Law Matters
Adopting a stepchild is one of the best ways to blend your family and access all the rights and responsibilities of legal parenthood. The best way to begin the process is to discuss your situation with a qualified family law attorney, such as the experts at The Hache Law Firm, P.A. We take a child-centered approach to complex family law matters to make sure you receive the best possible outcome. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can help you.