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  • Writer's pictureJarbath Peña Law Group PA

All I Want for Christmas Is Family

A Guide to Stepparent Adoptions

Christmas is a time for family. And today, many families are blended. If you are the stepparent of a child, you might feel the pull to make your new family official—and you may want to be legally acknowledged as your stepchildren’s parent. But how does that happen?

People sometimes assume that, as a stepparent, they have normal parental rights simply because they married the child’s biological parent. However, in most courts, this is not the case. Gaining parental rights to a child involves petitioning the court to adopt them. Today, we’ll take a look at this process.

What Stepparent Adoption Accomplishes

For the sake of clarity, we’re going to use an example situation. In this example, Bob and Sue were married, and during the marriage, they had a child, Jane. They divorced, and Sue got remarried to Todd. While Todd has proven to be a great father, Bob moved to another state and has very little contact with Jane.

Pursuant to Florida Statute § 63.172, stepparent adoption has the following effects.

  1. It terminates all parental rights and responsibilities of the non-adopting biological parent. So in our example, if Todd wanted to adopt Jane, Bob would first need to relinquish his parental rights to Jane.

  2. It establishes parental rights and responsibilities for the stepparent who is adopting the child. In our example, Todd would gain parental rights and responsibilities over Jane.

  3. It terminates any legal relationships for relatives connected to the non-adopting biological parent. In our example, anyone related to Jane through Bob would lose legal relationship status.

  4. It establishes a legal relationship between the child and the adoptive stepparent’s relatives. In our example, all of Todd’s relatives would gain a legal relationship status with Jane.

As you can see, there are serious and permanent changes that take place when a stepparent adopts a stepchild. In our example, after Todd adopts Jane, he would be responsible for her financially and in every other way that a biological parent is legally responsible for their child. This holds true even if Todd and Sue get divorced someday. Now, let’s look at the actual process of stepparent adoption.

Steps in the Stepparent Adoption Process

The stepparent adoption process is pretty straightforward in Florida. However, it may still be challenging. These are the five steps you will need to go through.

Get Consent from the Non-Adopting Parent

The non-adopting biological parent must give consent to the adoption. This step is often the hardest because the biological parent may not want to give up their parental rights. In our example, Todd and Sue must ask Bob to consent to Todd’s adoption of Jane. If Bob agrees, Todd and Sue can move forward with the adoption. However, if Bob does not agree, then Todd and Sue will need the help of an experienced family law attorney to attempt to work through Bob’s objections.

Now, Florida law allows consent to be waived under certain conditions. A family court judge can waive consent if the biological parent (Bob in our example) has:

  • Abandoned the child,

  • Already had their rights terminated, or

  • Been declared incompetent and not likely to get better.

Usually, if the child is 12 or older, they must also consent. There are situations where other people must consent, but those situations are far less common.

File a Petition for Stepparent Adoption

If you are the stepparent, you must file a petition to adopt. This petition is the formal request asking the family court to allow you to adopt your stepchild. Once you file this petition with the courts, it officially opens your case. You must file this petition along with other supporting documentation as required by Florida law. This petition should be filed in the county where you reside with the child’s biological parent.

Schedule a Final Hearing

After your stepparent adoption petition is filed, the court assigns a judge to your case. Once a judge is assigned, your attorney will check the judge’s availability and schedule a final hearing. Your attorney will send you an official Notice of Hearing for the date and time of the final hearing.

The Final Hearing

This is a formal yet friendly hearing in front of a judge. We say friendly because most judges really enjoy seeing families unite. Most judges conduct the hearing virtually, and the process usually only takes about 5-10 minutes. During the hearing, the judge usually asks a few questions. These questions are designed to make sure that everything is in order and that everyone involved wants the adoption to proceed.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge makes a ruling. Generally, as long as everything is in order, the judge will grant the petition and finalize the adoption. This means that you now have full legal rights to the child.

Obtain an Amended Birth Certificate

After the court finalizes the stepparent adoption, you can apply for an amended birth certificate for the child. In our example, Jane’s amended birth certificate would now list Todd and Sue as Jane’s mother and father. The old birth certificate is then sealed.

Let Us Guide You Through the Process

Adopting a child and creating a new family is a wonderful thing any time of the year—but especially during the family holiday season. The experienced attorneys at the Jarbath Pena Law Group would be honored to guide you through every step of the process. Issues can come up, especially in seeking to terminate the parental rights of the non-adopting biological parent. That’s why you need an experienced family law attorney to help to overcome any objections and get the adoption moving forward. We are also well-versed in the details of filing the proper paperwork and scheduling a hearing. You are in good hands with the family law attorneys at Jarbath Pena. We urge you to get in touch with us by providing your information online or giving us a call at 305-615-1005 today!

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