Step or foster parent adoption is a wonderful addition to any family. This decision is a significant one, both for the parent and child, and requires careful consideration of family circumstances and legal requirements.
Step parent adoption is governed by Chapter 63 of the Florida Adoption Act. Section 63.042 provides that any minor or adult may be adopted by an unmarried adult, a husband and wife “jointly,” or a married person whose spouse is either the parent or whose consent has been excused “for good cause” by the court. Before the adoption can take place, Section 63.062 requires that the child’s biological parents consent to terminate their parental rights. This requires notifying the child’s birth mother and, in some cases, the father, depending on paternity-related factors.
If the biological father has not substantially complied with the requirements to establish paternity and maintain parental rights, he waives legal rights to the child and his consent is not required. In uncontested cases where both birth parents consent or waive their rights, stepparents may initiate the adoption by filing a joint petition, Form 12.981(b)(1), with supporting documents, including the consent to terminate parental rights, child’s birth certificate, a Uniform Child Custody Act affidavit, and parent’s death certificate, if relevant. In contested cases, Section 63.054 requires that adoptive parents perform a search of the Florida Putative Father Registry.
Where a minor is surrendered for adoption to an intermediary such as an adoption agency, the agency becomes the child’s legal guardian. Section 63.092 requires that the adoption entity report any placement with a person who is not a relative or stepparent of the child. Extended family members are still considered an “at-risk placement” if the birth parents have not consented to terminate their parental rights. In some cases, the court will require a study to determine the suitability of the intended home. A home study often involves:
- Interview with adoptive parents
- Determination of financial security
- Evaluation of physical environment
- Criminal and central abuse registry check
- Counseling, education, and support services
- Prohibited residence of sexual or child offender
A favorable home study results in placement of the minor in the adoptive home while the final adoption order is pending. Once the judgment becomes final, the adopted child inherits from the adoptive parents and obtains other benefits associated with a new parental relationship.