Most depictions of stepparents in the media present callous individuals who detest any children from the first marriage. This image of the cruel stepparent diminishes the many caring and healthy relationships shared between stepchildren and their stepparents. In fact, some stepparents become so attached they petition to adopt the stepchild, thereby assuming all rights of a natural parent. While there is no denying the emotional aspect of adoption, it also grants the adopting adult important rights to make decisions related to the child and petition for custody if the adoptive and biological parents later divorce. The act of adopting a stepchild can have a profound effect on the child’s life, as seen in a news story about a stepfather who surprised his 11 year-old stepson with an adoption certificate last Christmas. The procedure for stepparent adoption is generally easier than a traditional, formal adoption, but certain standards do need to be satisfied before a court will sign-off on the request.
Is the Stepparent Eligible to Adopt?
Any request for adoption must start with an assessment of whether the person seeking to adopt is eligible. In Florida, the spouse of a child’s natural parent is eligible to petition for adoption as long as the other spouse consents, or is excused by the court from consenting. Most adults are generally able to adopt, unless a person has a physical or mental disability that affects the ability to parent. Courts are reluctant to grant legal rights to individuals that cannot fulfill the parent role, and are likely to deny the adoption petition under such circumstances.
Filing a Petition
Once eligibility is determined, a petition is filed with the local circuit court asking permission to grant the adoption. The petition must contain certain information for a court to accept it, and the provisions that are most important include whether consent from the other biological parent was given and why the stepparent wishes to adopt the child. After the petition is submitted, the child’s other parent must be notified about the pending petition request before a court can rule on it.
Consent from Biological Parents
The crucial part of any adoption, stepparent included, is obtaining the consent of both biological parents, or showing why such consent is not necessary. In stepparent adoptions, the consent of at least one parent is basically presumed, but the real issue lies with whether the child’s other biological parent will protest the adoption petition. If the other parent decides not to consent, it is still possible to proceed with the adoption if grounds exist that make consent unnecessary. These include:
- the parent deserted or abandoned the child;
- the parent had his/her parental rights terminated by a court; or
- the parent was determined by a judge to be legally incompetent, and is unlikely to regain competency.
In addition, consent may not be necessary from the child’s father if the man did not establish himself as a legal parent. These exceptions exist because a father is not always presumed to be a child’s legal parent since, absent genetic testing, biological relation to the child is not guaranteed. Consequently, a father’s consent is only needed if one of the following is true:
- the man was married to the child’s mother at the child’s birth;
- the man previously adopted the child;
- a court determined he is the child’s father;
- the man filed an affidavit of paternity; or
- the man acknowledged paternity in accordance with Florida law.
Contact a Florida Adoption Attorney
Adoptions are events worthy of celebration, but the correct procedure must be followed to ensure a court will authorize a petition. Working with an experienced adoption attorney can relieve the stress of wondering if your petition will be accepted, and make the entire process much more perfunctory and simple. All Family Law Group of Tampa Bay knows how to build a strong petition in favor of adoption, and is available to help you complete your family. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+