When many people hear the word “adoption”, they think of the common scenario of a couple adopting a child not related to them by blood. However, there are several types of adoption, and many adoptions take place within a family unit including adoptions of a nephew, niece, grandchild or stepchild.
Courts prefer the parents of a child to play an active role in raising them, with the relatives of each acting in support. However, there are circumstances that require non-parental relatives to step in and assume the role of parent. This tends to happen in the following cases:
- The sudden death of both parents
- The serious debilitation of both parents
- The abandonment of the child by both parents
If the child was being raised by one parent and the parent dies or becomes suddenly ill, giving custody to the other parent may not be in the best interest of the child. Even if that parent is alive and well, if the court deems them unfit to be a parent then a relative may get custody. The health, safety, and welfare of the child will always be the court’s first priority.
Who is Considered a Relative?
To qualify for relative adoption, you must be related to the child within the third degree of consanguinity. You must be the child’s grandparent, great grandparent, aunt or uncle, first cousin, niece or nephew, or their sibling. A relative adoption involving grandparents or aunts and uncles is the most common, as these individuals have the stability and resources to care for a child. However, family circumstances can vary to an extraordinary degree. You may be the much older half brother or sister of a child that one of your parents had late in life. If they are unable to care for them, it is right for you to step up and submit a petition for adoption. If you are a much more distant relative, you will need to follow the private adoption procedure, discussed more below.
How a Relative Adoption Differs from Others
Private adoption is a lengthy and difficult process in Florida. In a private adoption, an adoption agency must assess the suitability of the home and whether it is in the best interests of the child. This step is omitted in a relative adoption unless the court has reason to believe your home is unsafe for the child. Your ability to file a single petition that at once terminates parental rights and finalizes the adoption also shortens the process.
Stepparents can also adopt their stepchildren. Married couples with blended families tend to take this step to bring greater coherence and harmony to households.
To carry out a stepparent adoption, you must be married to the legal parent of the child. You will need to file a petition for adoption. Both you and your spouse must be the petitioners. In the petition, you must include the birth date and place of the child, the proposed last name of the child should the adoption go through, statement of the stepparent’s life with the child, and reasons for the adoption.
You should retain the services of an adoption lawyer to guide you through this process. Stepparent adoption is more complex than a relative adoption. The petition for adoption initiates the process. However, the absent parent of the child can oppose the adoption. In the event that the absent parent does not raise an objection to the adoption, then the court will finalize it and give the child a new birth certificate with their new name and parents.
The trouble comes in when the other biological parent decides to assert their rights. If your spouse is the mother of the stepchild you want to adopt, the birth father may object strongly to the adoption and name change. In cases where the birth father provides financial support and plays an active role in the child’s life, the court will typically decline to grant the adoption. If the other birth parent has had little or no contact with the child since their birth, the best course may be to seek the termination of their parental rights. This is allowed if the absent parent has deserted the child or has been declared incompetent for medical reasons.
Florida law dictates that an effort must be made to locate an absent birth parent. Your attorney will advise you of the specific steps you must take to meet this requirement. If the absent parent is found, they must be served a copy of the adoption documents. As of 2015, same-sex couples can also petition for stepparent adoption. The legalization of same-sex marriage statewide has made this possible.
Some couples opt for private adoption, which is an adoption arrangement without any government involvement. This form of adoption typically occurs when parents who are expecting a child, decide to put it up for adoption before it is born. This decision tends to be the result of extreme financial hardship. Although the biological parents want to know the child and stay in their life, they are willing to allow a more financially able couple to raise them.
In this adoption process, adoptive parents and birth parents meet and share information before the child’s birth. They may agree to continue contact after the adoption has been finalized. Communication and good faith are vital to this kind of adoption. We typically find that it is in the best interest of the child and both sets of parents to stay in contact.
If you want to adopt privately, you should be aware of the difficulties involved. These types of adoptions can be highly charged and emotionally tough. The anonymity is removed from the process, which can lead to conflict between the two parties. This can cause harm and confusion in the child, which is why the rules concerning communication should be set down clearly.
Florida law is designed to give each birth parent the right to know their child and communicate with them after birth. The Florida Adoption Reunion Registry gives birth parents the opportunity to reconnect with their children once they have turned 18.
Do I Need an Adoption Lawyer?
In every adoption case, it is a good idea to seek the advice of a lawyer on basic points of law. In the more complex types of adoption, you should retain the services of an attorney throughout the process. If you want to adopt your stepchild and the absent biological parent is contesting it, you will have a better chance of getting a favorable outcome with the help and insight of a lawyer.
All private adoptions are best done with the help of a lawyer. This kind of adoption is best handled by an experienced adoption attorney that understands the sensitivities of the process. Gulf Coast Adoptions is ready to handle any questions you may have regarding the adoption process. Please contact call or text us at 850-999-7977.