The legal requirements of adopting a stepchild

Attorney Yanique Otto

 

Scenario:

So you’ve recently gotten married, and your wife had a child, Kerry, prior to your marriage. You’re about to have a baby together, and you’ve recently started thinking , “It sure would be nice for us to all have the same last name.” In fact, you don’t just want the same last name, you love Kerry as your own child, and you want to adopt her legally.

Here’s what you need to know:

Adoption is the legal procedure by which a child becomes, through court action, part of a family other than that of his or her birth parents.

In Florida, in order for a child to be adopted, you generally need the consent of the birth mother, the minor child himself if he is 12 years or over, and the father. But note that the father’s consent is only required under certain circumstances, such as when:

  1. The minor was conceived or born while the father was married to the mother;
  2. The father previously adopted the child;
  3. A court has declared that he is the legal father for the child, by the date a petition is filed for termination of parental rights;
  4. The father has filed an affidavit of paternity, by the date a petition is filed for termination of his parental rights; or
  5. In the case of an unmarried biological father, he has acknowledged in writing, signed in the presence of a competent witness, that he is the father of the child, he has acknowledged with the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health within the required timeframes, and has complied with the other requirements of the applicable statute.

Once you have the required consent from the respective individuals, you’ll need submit a petition to the court in order for the judge to determine if the adoption is in the child’s best interest. Sometimes it’s hard to obtain consent for the father, because his whereabouts are not known, and the law provides for ways around this – including service by publication, and search of the Florida Putative Father registry.

In the scenario we started out with, dad who is wishing to legally adopt the step-child will also have to demonstrate that he is in a position to care for the minor child, financially and emotionally. He will need to demonstrate to the judge that the adoption is in the best interest of the child!

Here’s the bottom line:

Adoption is a fairly complicated legal process. It involves termination of at least one parent’s parental rights, and courts usually require strict compliance with the law before entering an order of adoption.

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