Adoption can take a variety of forms. One common form is for a married couple to adopt a child with whom they have no prior relationship. Another common scenario, however, is for a stepparent to become the adoptive parent of his or her stepchild. In the State of Florida, the adoption process for stepparents is the most straightforward process. To become the adoptive parent of a stepchild, the stepparent needs to file a formal request with the court, and also needs to obtain consent from both his or her spouse and the other biological parent. In the event that the stepchild is 12 years or older, consent will also need to be obtained from the stepchild as well.
If the biological parent is unavailable to give consent, because he or she is absent or unknown, then efforts must be made to conduct a search for the biological parent. There must at least be an attempt to give notice in the event that a biological parent cannot be located.
In addition to stepparents, both individuals and married couples can adopt a child in Florida. In fact, a married individual is legally allowed to independently adopt a child, but this requires special court approval.
One of the big hurdles to becoming an adoptive parent in Florida is completing an adoption “home study.” This study needs to be completed and approved before the adoption can take place. The home study involves several different pieces, but basically, the purpose of the study is to ensure that the prospective adoptive child will be placed in a stable and safe home environment. This is why the home study involves a background check, references, home inspections, financial evaluations, in-person interviews, and so forth. The home study needs to be monitored by a licensed entity; this ensures that everything is up to par.
After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parent acquires the same rights as a biological parent. In other words, the adoptive parent is treated as though he or she were the parent from the birth of the child. This means, among other things, that the adoptive parent can be legally responsible for child support if divorce occurs. Suppose a stepparent becomes the adoptive parent of his or her stepchild, and then later goes through a divorce with the biological parent. The biological parent can request child support from the former adoptive stepparent.
After a stepparent formally becomes an adoptive parent, the child’s birth certificate may be amended to include the name of the adoptive parent. If the adoptive stepparent is a stepfather, then the child’s name may also be amended to include the stepparent’s last name.
As mentioned, prospective adoptive parents must conduct a search for the biological parent even if the biological parent is not readily available. However, if the parental rights of the biological parent have been formally terminated, then this search is not necessary, because consent from the biological parent in this situation is not required.
Parental rights can be terminated in the following scenarios: (1) the parent voluntarily surrenders rights with the proper documentation; (2) the parent has actually deserted or abandoned the child; (3) the parent has behaved in such a way as to endanger the health or well-being of the child; (4) the parent has been in jail for a certain period of time; (5) the parent has not fulfilled the demands of the court-filed case plan after the child is ruled a dependent; (6) the parent has behaved “egregiously” in a way which the court believes has endangered the child or threatened the child’s well-being or health.
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