When two people love each other, they may make their commitment official by getting married. The same situation may apply if a stepparent has been a huge part of a child’s life for a long time. The parent may prove his or her commitment by adopting the stepchild.
A stepparent adoption makes the relationship legal. When a child has been adopted, he or she has the same rights as a biological child. There are no differences in terms of inheritances, child custody, child support, and criminal laws.
There are many reasons why a stepparent may choose to adopt a spouse’s child. The stepparent may have no children of his or her own and want to make sure the child is entitled to any inheritance. It could be that there are other children in the household and adoption will make everyone equal. In many cases, adoption is legalizing the parent’s commitment to the child. Perhaps the parent has spent many years parenting the child and wants to make the relationship legal.
Who Can Adopt?
Under Chapter 63, Florida Statutes, any person can be adopted, whether that person is a minor or an adult. There are several categories of people who can legally adopt:
- An unmarried adult
- A husband and wife
- A married person, without a spouse, if the spouse is the child’s parent and consents to the adoption, or if the spouse does not join in the petition for adoption, but the court allows it anyway because it is in the best interest of the child
Is Consent Required?
Stepparent adoption involves terminating the parental rights of one parent. For example, if a man marries a woman with a child, he can petition to be the child’s legal father if the child’s biological father consents and voluntarily terminates his rights. If the father has died, then no consent is required.
Consent may also be waived in the following situations:
- The court has already terminated the parent’s rights.
- The parent has abandoned the child.
- The parent is incapacitated or has been absent for a long time.
- The parent has been deemed incompetent by the court.
- A legal guardian is unreasonably withholding consent.
What is the Process?
The process for stepparent adoption begins with the stepparent filing a sworn petition to adopt. This petition contains the following forms:
- Consent form from the birth parent
- Stepparent Adoption: Consent and Waiver by Parent. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.981(a)(1) or Stepparent Adoption: Affidavit of Nonpaternity, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.981(a)(3)
- Certified copy of the death certificate of a parent, if deceased
- Stepparent Adoption: Consent of Adoptee. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.981(a)(2). This is a consent form for children over 12 years of age
- Certified copy of the child(ren)’s birth certificate.
- Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.902(d).
- If applicable, Stepparent Adoption: Motion for Search of the Putative Father Registry, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.981(a)(6).
Note that the stepparent must have written consent from the parent who is terminating his or her parental rights. If the person wishes to file a petition without the parent’s consent, he or she may wish to do so. The court may grant an adoption without such consent. It is best to consult with an attorney if you wish to proceed with this route to understand your options.
The stepparent must submit the required forms. He or she can then request a final hearing with the court staff. If everything has been submitted appropriately, the hearing may be held immediately. If not, then the person must give notice of the hearing. There are two ways to do this. The stepparent can use personal service if he or she knows where the parent lives. If the stepparent has no idea where the other parent is, then he or she can use constructive service. This involves posting and publishing the notice. There are specific forms that must be filled out and instruction to follow. The process can be quite complex, so it is recommended that you seek the assistance of a family law attorney.
You may need to bring a final judgment form to the hearing. The court clerk can advise you of the details as well as the number of certified copies and the fees involved. After the final hearing, the file will be sealed. An order from a judge will be required to open the file.
Benefits of Adoption
A stepparent adoption offers many benefits for the child and stepparent. Benefits for the stepparent include:
- The ability to make legal decisions for the child
- The right to contact the child and maintain a relationship in the event of a divorce
- A stronger family bond
Benefits for the child include:
- A stronger sense of family
- Access to health care
- The ability to receive child support, should the parents divorce
- Inheritance rights
- Rights to Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, and other government benefits
Seek Legal Help
Stepparent adoption can be an exciting process for both the parent and the child. Some children may never know their biological mother or father, and their stepparent may be their role model.
An adoption can strengthen a family bond. Learn more about the process by contacting Palm Beach divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler. He can help you understand the laws and steps involved. Schedule a consultation by calling our office at (954) 346-6464.