A child’s safety, mental and emotion well-being is always the first priority in placing a child with adoptive parents. Regardless of why you are adopting, Florida law and the courts have a number of safe guards in place to ensure that the best interest of the child is always looked after first and foremost. These safeguards, although absolutely necessary, can be complicated to follow. Whether you are adopting a family member, or going through an adoption agency, each adoption proceeding will be unique and will have its own nuances. The best way to understand these measures is to have someone on your side guiding you through the process step by step.
Expanding your Family
If you decide to grow your family by adopting a child that is not a stepchild or a relative, the process can be complicated and tedious with multiple steps. The following is a basic outline of the steps for adopting a child:
- The birth mother must give consent to the adoption. The earliest a mother can give consent to an adoption is 48 hours after she has given birth. Even if you have a standing agreement with the birth mother and have paid the costs of her prenatal care, the birth mother still cannot consent to the adoption until 48 hours after the birth.
- The biological father may have to give consent to the adoption. If the biological father was married to the birth mother at the time of conception or birth, then his consent is required. The biological father will also be required to give consent to the adoption if he has been adjudged the legal, natural father of the child, or if he has registered with the Florida Putative Father Registry as the father.
NOTE: If the child has been abandoned or if the parental rights of the biological parents has been already terminated, their consent is waived.
- Someone must file a petition to terminate parental rights pending adoption. This petition may be filed by the biological parents, or an agency or another person that has physical custody of the child. This petition must include the consent of any necessary parties. In addition to this petition, there must be an answer filed, and a hearing on the petition.
- If the petition is granted, the parental rights will be terminated and the child will have to go into someone else’s custody. This could be an adopting agency, a foster home, or potential adoptive parents home.
- Before a child can be placed into an adoptive parents’ home, even temporarily, the adoptive parents must first undergo a preliminary home study. This study ensures, among other things, that the environment will be best for the child and that the adoptive parents have the means to support the child. The adoptive parents must receive a favorable home study. Once you undergo a preliminary home study, the results are good for one year, so it can be done before you have identified a child to adopt.
- After the parental rights of the biological parents have been terminated, there will be a petition for adoption. Around this time is also when your child will be placed with you. During this time there will be another home study conducted. This study will be similar to the preliminary home study, but the child will also be involved this time and there will be at least two visits instead of only one. Whoever conducts the study will also give a recommendation on whether or not the adoption should be finalized.
- After final home study is completed, there will be a hearing on the petition for adoption. At this hearing the adopting parents will need to be present, along with the child depending on their age. At this hearing, the judge will determine if adoption is in the best interests of the child. If the adoption is in the best interest of the child based on all of the circumstances, including your preliminary and final home study, the adoption will be granted and finalized and that child is now part of your family forever.
Adopting a stepchild or family member
If you choose to adopt a family member or a stepchild the process differs from other adoption processes. In some respects, this process is less complicated, but it has its own nuances that require careful attention to ensure a smooth process.
To adopt a stepchild or family member the adopting parents can file a joint petition for termination of parental rights and adoption. The petition must still contain all the information of a petition to terminate parental rights and a petition to adopt, but they are filed together as one. Also when a family member or stepparent adopts a child, they do not typically have to submit to either a preliminary home study nor a final home study.
Like in other adoptions, there will be a hearing on the petition that grants the adoption, but the hearing may be scheduled immediately after the petition is filed. At this hearing the adopting parent will have to appear and the child may have to appear at the hearing as well. Because the termination of parental rights is filed with the petition for adoption, if the judge grants the adoption, the adoption by the stepparent or family member terminates the rights of one or both parents, depending on the situation.