What Is Stepparent Adoption in Florida?

A Florida stepparent adoption allows a person to gain full and equal parental rights over their stepchild. In Florida, a stepparent adoption has fewer requirements than regular adoptions, which makes it faster and less expensive.

A stepparent adoption (1) gives legal parental status to the adoptive stepparent, (2) terminates the rights of the absent biological parent, and (3) allows the adopted child to change their name.

How Stepparent Adoption Works

To adopt a stepchild in Florida, the stepparent must (1) get the consent if required, (2) file the adoption petition and accompanying documents in the appropriate county, (3) schedule the final Court hearing, (4) get the final judgment of adoption, and (5) finally obtain an amended birth certificate. Here are the steps:

1. Get the Consent if Required

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:

  1. When a parent has abandoned a child.
  2. When a parent has already had their rights terminated.
  3. 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 help you to determine whether you need to obtain consent.

Usually, the child being adopted must also consent if they are 12 or older. Other people must consent as well In some less common situations.

2. File the 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. Filing a Petition opens the court case. The petitioner, which is the stepparent asking for parental rightsfiles the petition along with 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 petitions in Seminole County, Florida, where most judges hear cases virtually.

3. Schedule the Final Hearing

Once the petition for the stepparent adoption is filed, the court will assign a judge to your case. Then your attorney will check the judge’s availability and schedule a time for the final adoption hearing. We will send you a Notice of Hearing for the scheduled time.

4. Obtain the Final Judgment

Most judges enjoy conducting stepparent adoption hearings. The hearing is a formal, but friendly meeting with the judge, after which the judge will rule on the adoption. Most judges conduct the hearings virtually.

The hearing typically takes 5-10 minutes. The judges will ask a few questions to make sure that everyone wants the adoption 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. The judgment entered at or shortly after the hearing is what grants the stepparent full parental rights.

5. Amend the 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. We do this for you as your attorney.

Requirements for Stepparent Adoption

Stepparent adoptions are governed by Chapter 63 of the Florida statutes. The requirements for a stepparent to adopt a stepchild in Florida are:

  1. The stepparent must be able to financially and morally support the stepchild.
  2. The stepparent and the stepparent’s spouse must file a joint petition for adoption.
  3. The petition must include (1) the child’s birth date and place of birth, (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.
  4. 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.
  5. The stepchild must have lived in Florida for at least six months.

The stepparent does not need to have lived in Florida for any specific amount of time. A stepparent can adopt their stepchild in Florida so long as the stepparent currently lives in Florida.

The rights of the absent parent do not need to be terminated prior to the adoption. If warranted, the court will terminate the absent parent’s parental rights through the final judgment of stepparent adoption.

Get your adoption done right.

We take care of the entire adoption process from start to finish for families throughout Florida. Learn more with a free phone or Zoom consultation.

Alper Law attorneys

Advantages of Stepparent Adoption

A stepparent adoption makes you the legal parent over your stepchild. The benefits of stepparent adoption are:

  • The stepchild can inherit from the stepparent.
  • The stepchild can take on the stepparent’s last name.
  • The stepparent can say they are the legal parent in an emergency situation.
  • Terminates what may be a bad relationship between the stepchild and the biological father.
  • It lets everyone become a full legal family.
Family doing a step parent adoption in Florida

Disadvantages of Stepparent Adoption

A stepparent adoption is a net positive for most families. But keep in mind that it has some challenges and disadvantages. Here are the main ones:

  1. Legal Process: A stepparent adoption requires a formal legal proceeding, which can be complicated and expensive.
  2. Inheritance: The stepchild will have the legal right to inherit from the stepparent as if they were a natural child. This could cause family disputes in blended families.
  3. Relatives of Biological Father: In some cases, the stepchild developed a relationship with their biological father’s extended family, such as a grandparent. The stepparent adoption will terminate those legal ties.
  4. Support Benefits: Before the stepparent adoption, the absent biological father may be required to pay child support to the biological mother. After completing the stepparent adoption, the biological father will not owe support for the time after the adoption is completed.

Birth Father’s Rights in a Stepparent Adoption

If a birth parent still has parental rights over the child, the court must in most cases conclude that the birth parent has consented to the adoption or that the 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 consent is not required, we continue with the adoption. If consent is necessary, we attempt to obtain consent from the birth parent.

Contested Stepparent Adoptions

If you 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 the location of the birth father or mother, Florida law lists several steps that you must take to find the birth parent before proceeding with the adoption.

Consent is generally not necessary if:

  1. The parent has executed a surrender document witnessed by two witnesses.
  2. The parent has abandoned the child.
  3. The parent has engaged in behavior that endangers the life, safety, well-being, or health of the child.
  4. The parent is incarcerated for a certain time period.
  5. A child has been adjudicated dependent and the parent has not complied with the case plan filed with the court.
  6. 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 the lawful method of giving the required papers to the person who must be noticed.

In general, there are four ways to serve any person:

  1. personal service
  2. by mail
  3. hand delivery
  4. 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).

Get your adoption done right.

We take care of the entire adoption process from start to finish for families throughout Florida. Learn more with a free phone or Zoom consultation.

Alper Law attorneys

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 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. 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, some families run into issues with the court procedure and have difficulty successfully completing the process. People looking to finish the stepparent adoption process themselves should review the forms and see if it’s a do-it-yourself project they can undertake without the help of an experienced attorney.

If your family situation is anything other than a basic stepparent adoption, then you may find it difficult to complete the adoption using the standard court forms.

Family considering stepparent adoption in Florida

Stepparent Adoption FAQs

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about stepparent adoption in Florida.

How does stepparent adoption work in Florida?

A Florida stepparent adoption allows a person to become the legal parent of their spouse’s child. The adoption must be filed in court and be approved by a judge. Stepparent adoptions terminate the parental status of the absent parent and allow the adoptee to change their name.

How much does it cost to adopt a stepchild in Florida?

Most attorneys helping people with a stepparent 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 stepparent adoption take in Florida?

A stepparent adoption in Florida takes about four months. This timeline applies if all the parties are available and the absent parent consents to the adoption.

We represent couples throughout the state of Florida and where we file petitions 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 stepparent adoption.

Do stepparents have rights in Florida?

A stepparent does not have an independent right to adopt. Instead, the stepparent must have the consent of the biological parent whose rights are being terminated. However, the need for 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 a father’s absence for the situation to be considered abandonment. The judge in the adoption case will look at all relevant facts and circumstances.

How can your husband adopt your child in Florida?

Your husband can adopt your child in Florida through a stepparent adoption. You and your husband will become equal legal parents over the child as a result of the stepparent adoption. The child’s 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 stepparent adoption?

Usually, you do not have to tell grandparents about a stepparent adoption, but sometimes circumstances require notifying the grandparent. Generally, 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 petition.

Do you have to go to court for a stepparent adoption?

The answer depends on the judge. In Florida, all stepparent adoptions are 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 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 your case online or even verify that an adoption petition has been filed. In many cases the adoption file is sealed and is unable to be accessed for any reason (unless later allowed by the Court).

Can you adopt your stepchild without the father’s consent in Florida?

Florida is one of the strictest states in the country in terms of the requirements for an unmarried biological father to maintain his parental rights. Unless the father is on the birth certificate or has been determined to be the father by court order, the unmarried biological father must take action to preserve his parental rights. Failing to take the required actions may mean that his consent is not required for a stepparent adoption in Florida.

Can a stepparent adopt another adult?

Yes, a stepparent can adopt an adult stepchild in Florida. The process is called an adult adoption. With an adult adoption, you do not need to obtain the consent of the absent parent, but you will still need to serve them a copy of the notice of adoption hearing.

What does a stepparent adoption do in Florida?

Stepparent adoption legally establishes a stepparent as the legal parent of their spouse’s child, severing the legal ties between the child and the other biological parent if they relinquish their parental rights or those rights are terminated by the court. This process grants the child the same rights and privileges as a biological child of the adopting stepparent, including inheritance rights and legal recognition of the parent-child relationship.

Gideon Alper

About the Author

Gideon Alper is an adoption attorney who helps clients throughout Florida with stepparent, relative, and adult adoptions. He graduated with honors from Emory University Law School and has over 15 years of experience in practicing law.

Gideon focuses on helping families where there is already a connection between the adoptee and the adoptive parent. Before private practice, he represented the federal government while working for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.