General Information About Adoption Procedures
An adoption establishes a legal parent-child relationship between the adoptee and the adoptive parents. This legal relationship is identical to the legal biological parent-child relationship. Florida’s current adoption law balances the interests of all parties — the birth parents, the adoptee, and the adoptive parents.
A successful adoption is a joyful moment for all the parties involved. Any individual or couple considering adoption should be aware some adoptions develop complications, and they should fully educate themselves in advance about the potential problems and pitfalls. The importance of hiring competent and experienced adoption professionals is essential.
Four types of adoptions exist in Florida: entity adoption (an agency or intermediary-facilitated adoption), stepparent adoption, relative adoption, and adult adoption. Each type of adoption has a unique procedure, and there are considerable duties that must be performed in adoption entity adoptions. s. 63.039.
A court presiding over any Florida adoption must receive proof by clear and convincing evidence that facts exist to terminate the biological relationship forever. A biological parent may properly execute a consent for adoption and surrender rights to the child. A consent for adoption is valid and binding when executed pursuant to the specific requirements of Florida law. The biological mother may not sign her consent for adoption until 48 hours after the child’s birth or on her discharge date from the hospital or birth center, whichever time is earlier. A birth father or legal father may execute an affidavit of non-paternity at any time before or after the child’s birth waiving any rights. When a child is 6 months of age or older, the mother and father may sign the adoption consent at any time, but their consent is subject to a revocation period of three business days. In all cases, the consents must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and be acknowledged before a notary who is not signing as a witness. Consents executed in accordance with Florida law are binding and irrevocable unless the court presiding over the adoption overturns the consents upon a clear and convincing finding the consents were secured by fraud or duress.
Absent consent, a court must hear proof that the parent has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child or otherwise failed to protect parental rights under Florida law. For example, although there are exceptions, an unmarried biological father must register his paternity with Florida’s Putative Father Registry before the petition to terminate his rights is filed or within 30 days of service of a Notice of Intended Adoption Plan, sign an affidavit of responsibility, and provide support to the mother and child if he knew of the pregnancy. If he fails to do so, then his consent is not required for the adoption. The adoption entity (agency or attorney) involved with the placement is required to serve a known and locatable unmarried biological father with a Notice of Intended Adoption Plan, advising him of Florida’s Putative Father Registry and the steps he must take to avoid a default and waiver of any claim to the child.
A legal father’s consent to an adoption is always required unless excused by the court for abuse, neglect, abandonment or one of the other factors outlined in 63.089. A legal father is a man who was married to the mother at the time of conception or birth, who has adopted the child, has been adjudicated at the father of the child before the petition for termination of parental rights is filed, or is listed on the child’s birth certificate before the petition for termination of parental rights is filed.
After a court issues a judgment terminating the biological parent-child relationship, the time frame for completing the adoption differs. In the case of an entity adoption, the adoptive parents are not eligible to finalize their adoption until 30 days after the judgment terminating parental rights or 90 days after placement of the child in their home, whichever event occurs later. Good cause may be shown for shortening these time periods. In the stepparent, close relative and adult adoption, the adoptive parents are eligible to immediately finalize their adoption. Additionally, in stepparent and close relative adoptions, the adopting parent has the option of proceeding in a unified legal process in which the order finalizing the adoption also simultaneously terminates parental rights.
When pursuing an entity adoption, prospective adoptive parents must decide whether to pursue their adoption through an agency, or an attorney. Prospective adoptive parents should choose an adoption entity that instills a significant level of trust and confidence. They should fully research the entity’s credentials, obtain references and recommendations, and fully understand the procedures and costs.
Stepparent adoptions are common when one biological parent is willing to surrender parental rights to the stepparent. After adoption, the stepparent has all rights and responsibilities of the biological parent. In stepparent adoptions, as with all other adoptions, if the child is 12 years of age or older, the child must consent to the adoption and must be interviewed before signing the consent. The court may dispense with the minor’s consent to the adoption upon a finding it is in the minor’s best interest.
The adoption process is complicated; thus, it is very important to consult an attorney when contemplating any type of adoption.
If you believe you need legal advice, call your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 342-8011, or the local lawyer referral service or legal aid office, or visit the website for the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys.
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