Adoptions By Family and Relatives
By Orlando Adoptions Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2005
Adoptions By Relatives, With Consenting Parents
Representing clients as an adoptions lawyer is a very enjoyable experience. Helping to create a new family serves as a welcome break from the contentious divorces and custody battles involved in the breakup of a family.
For the person seeking to adopt, the process is surprisingly simple, if certain conditions are met.
AAA Family Law has helped numerous stepparents, uncles, aunts and grandparents, and extended family members adopt their stepchildren and child relatives. However, our law firm does not handle adoptions of children by non-family members. These are handled by agencies and are usually facilitated by organizations that specialize in such matters.
Adopting a child becomes much more manageable when the non-custodial biological parent consents to the it. When a biological parents objects to it, an action to terminate their parental rights must be initiated pursuant to Chapter 39, Florida Statutes. Because the complex subject of terminating one’s parental rights requires its own article, I will limit this discussion to consented adoptions by stepparents and relatives.
Let us assume that a stepfather wishes to adopt his stepson. To start the process, a petition must first be filed in the circuit court of the county where the adoptee child resides. Our hypothetical client, known as the “petitioner”, must include the following information in his petition:
- the date and place of birth of the adopted child, if known,
- the name to be given to the child,
- the date the petitioner acquired physical custody of the child,
- the petitioner’s full name, age, and place and duration of residence,
- the marital status of the petitioner, including the date and place of marriage, if married, when the petitioner became a step parent,
- a statement that the petitioner is able to provide for the material needs of the child,
- the addresses of the biological parents whose consents are needed and
- the reasons why the petitioner desires to adopt the child. (Section 63.112(1), Florida Statutes.)
Under this statute, adoptions by non-relatives or stepparents require a home study by the Department of Children and Families, and its submission of a favorable report.
Petitioners that are relatives or stepparents of the adoptee do not have to submit a certified copy of the court judgment that terminated the parental rights of the biological parent. Clearly, the Florida Legislature sought to encourage stepparents and relatives to adopt children who do not have meaningful relationships with one or both of their biological parents.
Consent from Biological Parents
However, the Petitioner must get written consents to adopting the child by from both of the biological parents. Usually, our stepfather can easily obtain the consent of his wife, the adoptee’s mother, without much difficulty. But he must also obtain the written consent of the child’s biological father. If he knows where the biological father lives, he can simply mail him a consent form.
This consent waives all parental rights and responsibilities that the biological father has regarding the adoptee, including the obligation to pay child support, which the petitioner will assume. In addition, the biological father also waives his right to be given notice of the final hearing.
The consent must take the form of an affidavit that is sworn to by the biological father in the presence of a notary public and two witnesses. (Section 63.082(1)(a)(3), Florida Statutes.)
Finally, the consent form must include a recitation of the biological father’s rights in boldfaced type, as listed on Section 63.082(4)(e) of the Florida Statutes
What if the Petitioner and his wife do not know where the biological father lives? If that is the case, the Petitioner must conduct an extensive, good-faith search for the biological father, and file an “affidavit of diligent search” as explained on Section 63.082(3)(c) of the Florida Statutes.
What constitutes a “diligent search"? Section 63.088(5) of the Florida Statutes lists thirteen sources that the petitioner must look into before bypassing the requirement of finding the biological father. Needless to say, a cursory check of the telephone book or one internet people search will not suffice.
Once the Petitioner has filed a complete petition for adoption and the required consents (or affidavit of diligent search), he must schedule a final hearing. Fortunately, this last step is quite simple. Since he is a stepparent, the Petitioner is entitled to a hearing as soon as possible after the filing of the petition. (Section 63.122 (1), Florida Statutes.) He does not have to endure waiting for the 90-day period required of non-stepparent or relative petitioners.
As an attorney, I have represented numerous clients at these hearings. They differ from other family law hearings in several respects.
First, as opposed to adversarial hearings, the mood in the courtroom is much lighter since no one is actually opposing the adoption. Judges look forward to granting it, and their disposition usually reflects this.
Second, in order to protect the privacy of the adopting family and the adopted child, the hearing is closed to the public.
Finally, at these hearing the judge usually asks the questions to the petitioner, instead of the traditional attorney examination on the witness stand. Judges usually want it to occur, so their questions veer towards the softer side.
In a couple of hearings that I participated in, the presiding judge merely asked the Petitioner if he wanted to adopt the child, and then turned to the biological mother and asked her if that is what she wanted. When they both said yes, the judge granted the adoption. This is why I tell my clients that the hearing is the easiest part.
How We Can Help
If you are a stepparent, or a relative of a child whose biological parents are no longer willing to accept their parental responsibility, AAA Family Law can take you through the steps of becoming the legal parent of this child. Please call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 to schedule an initial consultation. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees. Click on Contact Us for a map and directions to the AAA Family Law office.
Our attorney retainer fees for an uncontested adoption range from $1,000 to $1,250, depending on its level of complexity of your case.