What is the Status of Gay Adoption in Florida?
Gay adoption under Florida law used to be 100% illegal. But then, in 2010, the Florida Court of Appeals ruled that the law banning gay and lesbian people from adopting was unconstitutional. Then in January 2015, same-sex marriage was legalized. Before marriage equality, same-sex couples looking to both become the parents of their child had to do something called a second parent adoption. However, now that gay marriage is legal in Florida, couples can take advantage of the cheaper and more streamlined Florida stepparent adoption process.
Types of Adoption
Can gay couples adopt in Florida? Yes, whether as a couple or a single person. That used to not be the case as the law previously expressly disallowed gay people from adopting.
There are two ways to do this: adopt through the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) or through a private agency or person. Adopting through a private agency lets you find a match with specific criteria important to you, but it’s a lot more expensive. Adopting through DCF (also called public agency adoption) is a lot cheaper: Florida will reimburse your adoption expenses (including attorney’s fees) up to a certain amount, plus provide many other benefits to you.
Adopting through DCF means going through classes, several interviews, questionnaires, and a home visit to ensure you are a good candidate. After a home study, DCF will place the child in your home during a trial period. Once this trial period has finished, they’ll sign off on the adoption. During the entire process, you work with your adoption lawyer to prepare documents for an adoption hearing in front of a judge.
DCF no longer asks about the applicant’s sexual orientation–it’s not even on the form. But keep in mind a couple of things:
- DCF is still going to favor married couples over single parents, gay or not.
- Prior to January 2015, DCF would not approve a joint adoption by a same-sex couple–now they do.
Private adoption is less paperwork and hassle, but you’ll generally have to pay the birth mother’s expenses, and you still have to do a home study, since that’s required by Florida law. Because there are no reimbursements, private adoptions are a lot more expensive, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000.
If a same-sex couple adopts from DCF as a couple, then both adopting parents will be recognized as the child’s parents through the same adoption proceeding.
A stepparent adoption allows one person to adopt the child of his or her spouse. The most common kind of same-sex couple needing a stepparent adoption are two women where one woman is the biological parent, and the other woman is the biological parent’s wife. Through stepparent adoption, the current non-legal parent will adopt the child and become a full legal parent, yet the current legal parent keeps his or her own parental rights.
Before gay marriage in Florida, same-sex couples could not do stepparent adoptions, as stepparent adoptions were limited to married couples. Instead, couples would do something called a Florida second parent adoption, which was generally more expensive, more paperwork, and riskier. But with the availability of stepparent adoptions for married same-sex couples, stepparent adoption will usually be the better choice.
Who Gets a Stepparent Adoption?
In Florida, our most common clients requesting a stepparent adoption (formerly, second parent adoption) are lesbian couples where one partner is the biological parent. Other people that will also want to do a stepparent adoption include:
- Gay male couples where a surrogate mother has given birth to a child using one of the men’s sperm.
- Couples where one partner has previously adopted a child on his or her own.
- Couples where one partner has a biological child with a previous relationship, and the other biological parent has or wants to give up his or her parental rights.
Unless you use an anonymous sperm donor, it is generally difficult (but possibly doable) to get a stepparent adoption without consent from the third-party biological parent. Generally, you can’t do a step-parent adoption if there are already two legal parents (for example, an ex-spouse) without having the other legal parent terminate his parental rights — a child can’t have three parents in Florida.
Stepparent Adoption Effects
Some married same-sex couples tell me that they assume that taking care of their spouse’s or partner’s child gives them legal rights to that child. This is a mistake. The only sure way to secure these legal rights is through adoption.
In general, same-sex couples in Florida should consider stepparent adoption for three reasons:
- To protect the current legal (often biological) parent.
- To protect the rights of the adopting parent.
- To protect the rights of the child.
Without a stepparent adoption, the current legal parent can’t rely on the current non-legal parent’s legal duty to provide for their child. This is especially important if the partners break up: a stepparent adoption can make the second parent help provide for the child even after the divorce or break up.
Of course, this works both ways. The current non-legal parent will also feel more secure in his or her legal right to care for the child. If the couple breaks up, this second parent will still be able to have a relationship with the child.
Finally, the child herself is guaranteed the legal support of two parents, regardless of what happens to the couple’s relationship.
Florida finally allows a biological mother to put her wife’s name on the child’s birth certificate at birth. However, it is strongly recommended by our office and the national gay rights organizations that lesbian married couples do a stepparent adoption after the child’s birth to ensure that the biological parent’s wife has full equal parental rights to the child. Other states or countries may not recognize a birth certificate alone as granting legal parentage to the non-biological mother without a stepparent adoption.
After the stepparent adoption is complete, both of the names of the same-sex couple will be listed as parents. That means both moms or both dads. Once the stepparent adoption is complete, or if the couple adopts jointly at the same time, a new birth certificate is issued by Florida showing the names of the new legal parents. The names will be listed as “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”
Stepparent Adoption Process
The first step in a stepparent adoption is filing the adoption petition and related paperwork.
Next, if parental rights need to be terminated, we’ll work to obtain consent from the parent whose rights are being terminated. If you used an anonymous sperm donor, we might not have to terminate anyone’s rights. With a known donor, some couples still want these third parties to be involved in the child’s life, which is completely fine. However, these third parties must generally still terminate all legal rights they have to the child.
Once all that’s filed, we complete a putative father registry search, a legally required check with every adoption to see if anyone else is claiming to be the father. Next, we schedule an adoption hearing with the judge assigned to your case. Finally, we prepare the judgment and the paperwork to change the birth certificate.
How long does it take?
Generally around two to three months once the adoption petition is filed.
How much does a stepparent adoption for gay couples cost in Florida?
The cost of a stepparent adoption in Florida mostly includes the legal fee, the filing fee charged by the court, and a few other small costs.
You need to understand the financial risk of not doing an adoption. If the biological parent dies, then the surviving non-biological parent could lose legal parental rights. The same could happen if the partners separate. It will cost a lot of money for the non-biological parent to prove in court that he or she has rights to the child.