Child Adoption By Relatives or Extended Family Members
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
Adoptions With Consenting Parents
As their family lawyer, I have helped numerous stepparents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and other extended family members adopt their stepchildren. However, our law firm does not handle adoptions of children by non-family members. These are handled by agencies and organizations that specialize in these.
Adopting a child becomes much more manageable when the non-custodial biological parent consents to 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. The steps in this type of process are: (1) the petition for adoption, (2) the consent from the biological parents and (3) the hearing before a family judge.
The Petition for Adoption
Let us assume that a stepfather wishes to adopt his wife's son from a previous marriage. To start the process, a petition must first be filed in the family court of the county where the adoptee child resides. According to Section 63.112(1), Florida Statutes, 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.
Under Section 63.112(1), Florida Statutes, 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.
Obtaining The Consent from Biological Parents
However, the Petitioner must obtain a written consents to adopting the child from both of the biological parents. Usually, our stepfather can easily obtain the consent of his wife, the mother of the child being adopted, 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. See Section 63.082(1)(a)(3), Florida Statutes.
Finally, the consent form must include a recitation of the biological father’s rights in bold 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 as shown on 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.
I have been the attorney at many of these hearings. They differ from other family law hearings in these 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 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 as a lawyer, the presiding judge merely asked the petitioner if he wanted to adopt the child, 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 family lawyer consultation by phone or at our office. 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 $1,200 to $1,500, depending on its level of complexity of your case. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees for more information on the pricing of our services.