How to Adopt a Stepchild in Florida
A stepparent adoption is a legal process through which a stepparent gains full and equal parental rights over their stepchild. The stepparent adoption is finalized in Florida through a court order called a Final Judgment of Stepparent Adoption.
Adopting a stepchild in Florida requires the stepparent to (1) get any required consents, (2) file the adoption petition and accompanying documents in the appropriate county, (3) attend a final hearing with the Court, and (4) finally obtain an amended birth certificate.
The result of the adoption judgment is that the adopting stepparent becomes just as much of a parent as his or her spouse. It is as if the child was born to the natural parent and the stepparent. The birth certificate is amended to show the names of the stepparent and the natural parent.
A stepparent adoption legalizes the parental relationship that is already in place. In most cases, the adopting stepparent already fully acts as a parent of the child being adopted. The stepparent adoption just makes it official and legally valid. This solidifies the relationship between the child and the adopting parent.
- A stepparent adoption legalizes the parental relationship between the stepparent and the biological parent’s child.
- In many cases, the consent of a biological father is not required to complete the stepparent adoption.
- Due to COVID procedures, most stepparent adoptions can be done completely remotely.
Requirements for Stepparent Adoption
In Florida, adoptions are governed by Chapter 63 of the Florida statutes. The requirements for a stepparent to adopt a stepchild in Florida are:
- The stepparent must be able to finacially and morally support the stepchild.
- The stepparent must file a petition for adoption, joined by the stepparent’s spouse.
- The petition must include (1) the birth date and place of birth of the child, (2) the name that should be given to the child, if the child’s name is being changed, (3) a statement of how long the stepparent has lived with the child, and (4) reasons why the stepparent wants to adopt the child.
- If applicable, the biological father must consent to the adoption. Or, the petition must state the reason why the biological father’s consent is not required.
- Note: the stepparent does not need to have lived in Florida for 6 motnhs or longer. Instead, a stepparent can adopt their stepchild in Florida so long as the stepparent currently lives in Florida. The adopting stepparent does not need to have lived in Florida for any specific amount of time.
Filing the petition starts the process. Then the absent parent has a chance to oppose the adoption. If the absent parent does not contest the adoption or if the absent parent has consented, then the court will finalize the adoption, which will give the child a new birth certificate showing the child’s new name and parents.
The rights of the absent parent do not need to be terminated prior to the adoption. Instead, if warranted, the court will terminate the absent parent’s parental rights through the final judgment of stepparent adoption.
In the past, a person could not adopt a stepchild unless the person had been a Florida resident for at least six months. However, the six-month requirement was repealed.
Tip: This residency rule is sometimes misunderstood, even by judges. Make sure your attorney and judge are aware of the up-to-date rules should you try to adopt within six months of living in Florida.
Five Steps to the Stepparent Adoption Process
A stepparent adoption in Florida is a five-step process:
- Get any required consents.
- File the adoption petition.
- Schedule the final hearing.
- Conduct the final hearing.
- Obtain an amended birth certificate.
1. Get Any Required Consents
The first part of the stepparent adoption process is for the non-custodial parent to give consent. For example, if you are the biological mother and wish for your spouse to adopt through a stepparent adoption, the biological father generally must consent to the adoption. If the non-custodial parent objects to the adoption, you’ll have to work with your attorney to overcome those objections.
Under Florida law, consent can sometimes be waived. A judge can waive consent under the following circumstances:
- When a parent has abandoned a child.
- When a parent has already had their rights terminated.
- When a parent has been declared incompetent and the parent is not likely to get better.
Therefore, the consent of the absent biological parent is not always required. We can work with you to determine whether or not you need to obtain consent.
Usually, the child being adopted must also consent if he or she is 12 or older. In some less common situations, other people must consent as well.
2. File the Stepparent Adoption Petition
A Petition for Stepparent Adoption is the formal request for the court to grant the adoption and give parental rights to the stepparent. The petitioner, which is the stepparent asking for parental rights, files the petition along with several other supporting documents legally required under Florida law.
The case can be filed in the country where you reside or in the county where your attorney is located. We file our cases in Seminole County, where most judges hear cases virtually.
The filing of this petition is what opens the case before the court.
3. Schedule the Final Hearing
Once the petition for the stepparent adoption is filed, the next part of the stepparent adoption process in Florida is when you’ll find out which judge is assigned to your case. From there, it is just a matter of scheduling a time with your attorney and the judge’s availability for a final hearing on the adoption. If you’re working with us, we’ll then send you a Notice of Hearing of the scheduled time.
4. Conduct the Final Hearing
The hearing is a formal, but friendly, meeting with the judge, after which he or she will rule on the adoption. The hearings are currently held virtually for our clients for most judges.
Usually, the hearing takes 5-10 minutes, and the judge will ask a few questions to make sure that everyone wants the adoption to happen and the correct procedures were followed. After the hearing, the adoption will be finalized, and the stepparent will have full legal rights to the child.
All of the stepparent adoption judges in the Orlando area are friendly—the adoptions are usually the highlight of their day. The judgment entered at or shortly after the hearing is what grants the stepparent with full parental rights. Specifically, the effect of the adoption judgment is outlined by section 63.172 of Florida law:
A judgment of adoption, whether entered by a court of this state, another state, or of any other place, has the following effect:Section 63.172 of the Florida Statutes.
(a) It relieves the birth parents of the adopted person, except a birth parent who is a petitioner or who is married to a petitioner, of all parental rights and responsibilities.
(b) It terminates all legal relationships between the adopted person and the adopted person’s relatives, including the birth parents, except a birth parent who is a petitioner or who is married to a petitioner, so that the adopted person thereafter is a stranger to his or her former relatives for all purposes, including the interpretation or construction of documents, statutes, and instruments, whether executed before or after entry of the adoption judgment, that do not expressly include the adopted person by name or by some designation not based on a parent and child or blood relationship, except that rights of inheritance shall be as provided in the Florida Probate Code.
(c) Except for rights of inheritance, it creates the relationship between the adopted person and the petitioner and all relatives of the petitioner that would have existed if the adopted person were a blood descendant of the petitioner born within wedlock. This relationship shall be created for all purposes, including applicability of statutes, documents, and instruments, whether executed before or after entry of the adoption judgment, that do not expressly exclude an adopted person from their operation or effect.
(2) If one or both parents of a child die without the relationship of parent and child having been previously terminated and a spouse of the living parent or a close relative of the child thereafter adopts the child, the child’s right of inheritance from or through the deceased parent is unaffected by the adoption and, unless the court orders otherwise, the adoption will not terminate any grandparent rights delineated under Chapter 752. For purposes of this subsection, a close relative of a child is the child’s brother, sister, grandparent, aunt, or uncle.
5. Obtain an Amended Birth Certificate
Once the adoption is finalized, you can apply for amended birth certificates that list the new mother or father. The old birth certificates will be sealed. If you’re working with us as your attorney, we do this for you.
Birth Father’s Rights in a Stepparent Adoption
If a birth parent still has parental rights over the child, then in most cases, the court must conclude that either that birth parent has consented to the adoption or that person’s consent is not necessary.
We try to identify first if consent from the birth parent is necessary; sometimes, you can adopt without the biological father’s consent. If it is not, we can continue with the adoption. If it is necessary, then we must attempt to obtain consent from the birth parent.
Contested Stepparent Adoptions
If we cannot get the absent parent to consent to the stepparent adoption, the best option may be to file to terminate the absent parent’s parental rights. Under Florida Statute §63.064, termination of parental rights of the absent parent is generally allowed if that parent has either:
- Abandoned the child.
- Been declared incompetent.
If you don’t know where the birth father or mother is, then Florida law lists several steps that you must take to try and locate the birth parent before proceeding with the adoption.
Consent is generally not necessary if:
- The parent has executed a surrender document witnessed by two witnesses
- The parent has abandoned the child
- The parent has engaged in behavior that endangers the life, safety, well-being, or health of the child
- The parent is incarcerated for a certain period of time
- A child has been adjudicated dependent and the parent has not complied with the case plan filed with the court
- The parent has engaged in “egregious conduct” that threatened the health and well-being of the child or a sibling of the child.
In addition, not every parent must consent to the adoption. Under Florida law, the only individuals required to consent generally are (1) the mother of the child, (2) the father of the child if the child was born while the father was married to the mother, the child is the father’s by a prior adoption, the child has been adjudicated by the court to be the father’s child, the father has filed an affidavit of paternity or is listed on the child’s birth certificate, or finally, if the father has filed an acknowledgment of paternity in the Florida putative father registry. Note that Florida court decisions may alter the list of who must consent to an adoption.
Should we find the parent whose rights will be terminated, we must serve a copy of the adoption documents. Serving the documents is a particular method of giving the required papers to the person using the procedure that Florida law requires.
In general, there are four ways to serve any person:
- personal service
- by mail
- hand delivery
- constructive service
For adoptions, personal service means delivering a copy of the adoption petition by a sheriff’s deputy or private process server to the parent. All petitions must be served by personal service. However, if the parent cannot be found, Florida law generally allows us to serve the parent whose rights are being terminated by constructive service. Constructive service means service by publication–a legal notice is posted in a court-approved publication (certain newspapers).
Tip: In many cases, the consent of the biological father is not necessary. Florida law outlines specific instances when the consent of the father is required.
Can Same-Sex Couples Get a Stepparent Adoption?
With the legalization of gay marriage throughout Florida, stepparent adoption is now available for same-sex couples as well. As of January 2015, same-sex couples can now get married, so gay and lesbian couples can adopt the child of their same-sex spouse. Previously, gay and lesbian couples would have to go through a slightly different process called a second parent adoption.
Can Someone Challenge the Stepparent Adoption?
Generally, nobody can challenge the adoption after one year (but there are a few exceptions). The relevant section is 63.142 of the Florida Statutes:
At the conclusion of the hearing, after the court determines that the date for a parent to file an appeal of a valid judgment terminating that parent’s parental rights has passed and no appeal, pursuant to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, is pending and that the adoption is in the best interest of the person to be adopted, a judgment of adoption shall be entered. A judgment terminating parental rights pending adoption is voidable and any later judgment of adoption of that minor is voidable if, upon a parent’s motion for relief from judgment, the court finds that the adoption substantially fails to meet the requirements of this chapter. The motion must be filed within a reasonable time, but not later than 1 year after the date the judgment terminating parental rights was entered.Section 63.142 of Florida Law.
Free Stepparent Adoption Forms
The Supreme Court of Florida provides free stepparent adoption forms for people to use. The forms can often be obtained from your local county clerk’s office.
Some people use the forms successfully to complete a stepparent adoption on their own. However, other times families run into issues with the court procedure and have difficulty completing some steps of the process. People looking to finish the stepparent adoption process themselves should review the forms and see if it’s a project their want to take on.
If your family situation is anything other than a basic stepparent adoption, then you may find it difficult, though not impossible, to complete the adoption using the free forms.
Stepparent Adoption FAQs
Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about stepparent adoption in Florida.
How much does it cost to adopt a stepchild in Florida?
Most attorneys helping people with a step-parent adoption will charge a flat fee between $2,000 and $4,000. The flat fee is typically only for an uncontested case with consent from the existing legal parents.
How long does step parent adoption take in Florida?
A stepparent adoption in Florida takes about two to three months. This timeline applies if all the parties are available and the absent parent consents to the adoption, assuming the adoption is filed in the Orlando area.
You do not need to live in Orlando to hire an Orlando stepparent adoption attorney. We represent couples throughout the state of Florida. Even the final hearing of adoption is held remotely.
Do you have to adopt to be a stepparent?
For most situations, a person must adopt a stepchild to have any parental rights to that child. In other words, a person that marries another person with a child does not have any legal rights to that child simply because of the marriage. It is not your child until you complete a step-parent adoption.
Do step-parents have rights in Florida?
A stepparent does not have an independent right to adopt. Instead, in most circumstances, the stepparent must have the consent of the biological parent whose rights are being terminated. However, the need for the consent may be waived in some situations where that person cannot be found or has abandoned the child.
Regardless, the consent of the stepparent’s spouse is always required.
What is considered child abandonment in Florida?
Florida law defines abandonment as a situation in which the parent, while being able, makes little or no provision for the child’s support or makes little or no effort to communicate with the child. The situation must demonstrate an intent to reject parental responsibilities.
Furthermore, if the adoption judge determines that the efforts of such parent to support and communicate with the child are only marginal efforts that do not evince a settled purpose to assume all parental duties, the judge may declare the child to be abandoned.
How long does a father have to be absent for it to be considered abandonment in Florida?
There is no statutory time limit on how long a father has to be absent for the situation to be considered abandonment. The judge in the adoption case will look at the facts and situation as a whole.
How can your husband adopt your child in Florida?
Your husband can adopt your child in Florida through a stepparent adoption. As a result of the step-parent adoption, you and your husband will become equal legal parents over the child. The birth certificate will then be changed to show both you and your husband as the parents.
Do grandparents have the right to notice about the step parent adoption?
Usually, you do not have to tell grandparents about the stepparent adoption, but sometimes circumstances require notifying the grandparent. Generally, the grandparents are notified only if the child has lived with a grandparent for at least six months within the last two years before the filing of the stepparent adoption.
Do you have to go to court for a stepparent adoption?
Depends on the judge. In Florida, all stepparent adoptions are a court proceedings. All adoptions are assigned to a particular judge in the county where the case is filed. The judge may allow the final hearing of adoption to be held virtually, or the judge may require an in-person appearance. Most judges in Seminole County, which is where we file adoptions, currently hold the hearings virtually.
Can other people see adoption records?
The court file for a stepparent adoption in Florida is marked confidential by statute. In other words, a person cannot look up the case online, or even verify that an adoption has been filed. In many cases the adoption file is sealed and unable to be accessed for any reason unless a court allows later on.
Can you adopt your stepchild with the father’s consent in Florida?
Florida is one of the strictest states in the country in terms of what an unmarried biological father must do to maintain his parental rights. Unless the father is on the birth certificate or has been determined to be the father by a court, the unmarried biological father must take action to preserve his parental rights. Failing to take any action may mean that his consent is not required for a stepparent adoption in Florida.