It is no secret that navigating life after divorce can be difficult. Not only do divorced spouses have to be concerned with creating a new life of their own after divorce, but they can have a number of other concerns, both financial and emotional, stemming from divorce. As can be expected, things can become even more complex if minor children are involved, especially if the minor children spend more time with one parent than another. While one might expect a person who lives with, cares for, and provides for a child to be considered that child’s parent, in cases of stepparents, the truth can be much trickier.
Stepparents in Family Law
A stepparent is a person who is married to a biological parent of the child in question, but is not himself a biological parent. While many people might assume that the stepparent would obtain parental rights simply by virtue of his or her marriage to the child’s parent, in many courts, this is not the case. This is because in any family law case, the issue of custody relates to the child, not the parents. In any custody case, the primary concern of the court will be the best interests of the child. Even though it may be true that a stepparent may care for and love the minor child in question, a court is unlikely to grant that parent any rights over the child unless the parent has petitioned for parental rights. Fortunately, while adoption typically terminates the biological parent’s parental rights, Florida law provides a way for stepparents to adopt the minor child while preserving the parental rights of the parent to whom they are married.
While the process to adopt a stepchild can seem simple, there are a number of complexities that may arise throughout the proceedings. The first step that a stepparent must take is to evaluate whether he meets the requirements to adopt the child. Under Florida law a stepparent may adopt a child under one of two situations. The first is if the stepparent’s spouse, who must be the parent of the person to be adopted, consents to the stepparent adoption. If the spouse fails to give consent or join in the petition, then the court must then find that the stepparent adoption is either in the best interests of the child, or that there is good cause shown.
Notifying the Court
As with many other family matters that involve the court, the next step to adopting a stepchild involves filing a petition. If both the spousal parent is in agreement to the stepparent adoption, which will generally be the case, then the parties may use Family Law Form 12.981(b)(1). In this form, the petitioners, who will be both the stepparent and a natural parent of the child, will need to provide the following information in order to adopt the child in question:
- The names of the petitioners
- The names of the children to be adopted
- Each child’s date of birth and place of birth
- A statement providing how long the stepparent has lived with the child or children
- The stepparent’s reason for wanting to adopting the child
- The home address of the stepparent
- The stepparent’s relation to the child’s parent
- The name of any other parent whose consent is required.
In addition, the following documents will also need to be provided along with the petition:
- A certified copy of each child’s birth certificate
- A completed UCCJEA affidavit
- Copies of judgments terminating parental rights, if any
- Documentation for any interviews held with the children.
Getting Consent or Termination
In Florida, the law is clear that petitioners seeking stepparent adoption must first either obtain consent from the other parent, or terminate that parent’s parental rights before a stepparent will be able to adopt a stepchild. This is because, as with most other jurisdictions, Florida public policy values the relationship between a parent and a child. As such, in order to file the petition for stepparent adoption, the petitioners will first need to contact the other parent in order to obtain consent. Interestingly enough, there are situations in which consent may not be necessary. In some cases, where the other parent terminated his own parental rights over the child in a prior proceeding, parties would not need to worry about the issue of consent.
Once the petition has been filed, the next thing that petitioners must do is provide notice to the other spouse, or any other interested parties. However, because the purpose of notice is to provide interested parties with an opportunity to learn of and challenge the petition, if the other parent consents to waiving his parental rights to allow the stepparent to adopt the child, then the adoption process will be greatly expedited. If not, then the court will hear from both sides to determine whether the stepparent will be allowed to adopt the child.
While adoption will allow a child to adopt under most intestate laws and will provide further protections for the relationship between the stepparent and the child, there are some consequences and issues that arise as a result of the adoption. The biggest one is that, in many cases, the parental rights of the other parent will be terminated. As a result, that parent will no longer be responsible for providing child support payments, but will also be unable to use the court to protect his or her relationship with the child. While the stepparent adoption process can be tricky at times, talking with a skilled and dedicated attorney can help navigate the ins and outs you might face throughout the proceedings.