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Introduction

Lawyers and judges receive many inquiries from people who wish to adopt a child. This pamphlet has been prepared to help understand adoption laws and procedures and complete an adoption in a safe and secure way. This pamphlet deals with adoption of minors. The procedure for adults is similar but considerably simpler.

Adoption laws and procedures in Florida reflect the state’s interests in providing stable ad permanent homes for adoptive children, as well as the interests of the birth/legal parents and adoptive parents.

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What Is Adoption?

Adoption means the act of creating a legal relationship between parent and child where it did not previously exist, declaring the child to be the child of the adoptive parents and their heir at law and entitled to all the rights and privileges and subject to all the obligations of a child born to such adoptive parents.

Adoption is a serious matter for all concerned. It determines the child’s future because it permanently severs ties with birth parents, and in most cases relatives, and transfers the child into a new family where the child will remain permanently. The new family is responsible for supporting and providing care and guidance to the child. For the birth parents, adoption usually means relinquishing the child forever without the privilege of seeing the child or being otherwise involved in the child’s life. However, in some types of adoptions, called open adoption, birth parents retain the right to communicate or visit with the child. Additionally, birth parents are permanently relieved of all responsibilities for the child’s care and financial needs. To the adoptive parents, adoption means providing for and undertaking the care of a child to whom they will have the same obligations as to a child naturally born to them.

Any person, minor or adult, may be adopted. Siblings may be adopted together.

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Who May Adopt a Child?

The following persons may adopt:

    1. A husband and wife jointly;
    2. An unmarried adult; or
    3. A married person without the other spouse joining as a petitioner, if the person to be
      1. The other spouse is a parent of the person to be adopted and consents to the adoption; or
      2. The failure of the other spouse to join in the petition or to consent to the adoption is excused by the court for good cause shown or in the best interest of the child.

No person eligible to adopt shall be prohibited from adopting solely because such person possesses a physical disability or handicap, unless it is determined by the court or adoption entity that such disability or handicap renders such person incapable of serving as an effective parent.

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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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How Can I Locate an Adoptable Child?

A child generally may be placed for adoption by an adoption agency, an attorney/intermediary, or a child-caring agency registered under s. 409.176. Agencies may be private or public. All private agencies are licensed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The only public child-placing agency in Florida is DCF. In private agency and attorney/intermediary placements, the proposed adoption must be reported to the court within two business days.

The adoption of a child across state lines must first be approved by the Interstate Compact administrator for both states. There are extensive documents that must be filed to comply with the Interstate Compact and clearance must be given before the child leaves or enters our state.

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How Does an Agency Or Intermediary Help Adoptive Parents?

Prior to placement, the prospective adoptive family must have a favorable home study to ensure the child’s best interests will be served by being placed in the home in all but stepparent, close relative (third degree of consanguinity) and adult adoptions. Home studies in Florida are conducted by adoption agencies, licensed clinical social workers and mental health professionals. As part of the home study process, the prospective adoptive parents also receive education and counseling to assist them to become ready for the child and provide a suitable, nurturing home.

Additionally, the agency or attorney/intermediary must acquire the consent of the required parties or, provide the required notice if a party refuses to consent, advise the adoptive parents of the legal risks involved with the placement. After the child is placed in the adoptive home with a favorable home study, an agency placement must be monitored for at least 90 days with mandatory monthly contact during that time, at least one of which must be in the home. Attorney/Intermediary placements only require two post placement visits. The post placement social worker maintains contact with the adoptive family to ensure the child’s best interests are being protected and promoted, and the bonding between the child and adoptive family is on track.

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Who Must Consent to the Adoption?

Unless the consent is excused by the court, the proper written consent for adoption must be received from:

    1. The mother of the minor.
    2. The father of the minor, if:
      1. The minor was conceived or born while the father was married to the mother;
      2. The minor is his child by adoption;
      3. The minor has been adjudicated by the court to be his child before the date a petition for termination of parental rights is filed;
      4. He has filed an affidavit of paternity pursuant to s. 382.013(2)(c) or he is listed on the child’s birth certificate before the date a petition for termination of parental rights is filed; or
      5. In the case of an unmarried biological father, he has acknowledged in writing, signed in the presence of a competent witness, that he is the father of the minor, has filed such acknowledgment with the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health within the required timeframes, and has complied with the requirements of subsection

The status of the father is determined at the time of the filing of the petition to terminate parental rights and may not be modified, except as otherwise provided in s. 63.0423(9)(a), for purposes of his obligations and rights by acts occurring after the filing of the petition to terminate parental rights.

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What is the Procedure After Placement?

After a child is placed for adoption with an adoptive family, the adoption entity must file a petition for termination of parental rights. This is a complex process with many essential requirements, including gathering social and medical histories and medical records, making a diligent search for any parent whose location is unknown, making the required disclosures to the birth and adoptive parents, and proving compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act if applicable. s. 63.087 – .089

Following the termination of parental rights, the adoptive family will desire to finalize the adoption. To do this, the adoptive family must file a petition for adoption with the clerk of court. This is generally prepared and filed through an attorney in the county where the termination of parental rights took place. The petition must be filed within 60 days of the termination of parental rights judgment. The hearing on the petition may not be held sooner than 30 days after the date of the termination of parental rights judgment or sooner than 90 days after the child was placed with the adoptive family. The 90-day rule does not apply for close relative, adult, or stepparent adoptions.

In some cases, court approval of fees and costs is necessary, s. 63.097, and in all but stepparent, adult, and close relative adoptions, an affidavit of expense and receipts is required

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What is Necessary to Finalize the Adoption?

The adoption is “finalized” at a final hearing. The adoptive parents must be present, but they may obtain permission to appear telephonically or by ZOOM with a notary to identify them to the court. A favorable final report of the agency or social worker must be filed with the court. The attorney handling the adoption will prepare the necessary papers for the court’s consideration and present the necessary testimony and evidence to the court. Assuming all requirements of the statutes and court have been met, the judge will sign a final judgment of adoption, awarding the adoptive family parental rights to the child.

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What are the Effects of Adoption?

As a result of the final judgment of adoption being granted, the adoptive family permanently assumes all parental rights and responsibilities for the child, with the birth parents’ parental rights and responsibilities previously or simultaneously being terminated. The child’s name is generally changed to whatever the adoptive family desires. This is accomplished with the Vital Statistics office of the state in which the child was born on a proscribed form. The paperwork for this is prepared by the attorney or agency. The original birth certificate is sealed and not readily available again to anyone. A new birth certificate is prepared showing the adoptive parents to be the child’s parents with the child’s new name.

Once the new birth certificate is received by the adoptive family, they may apply for a new Social Security number and a passport for the child and may open accounts on behalf of the child.

For all legal purposes, the adopted child will be considered the natural child of the adoptive family. Further, the adopted child will be treated legally as if the child were born into the adopted family. The child will be deemed equal to all other children who may then be or later come into the adopted family. This means the adopted child will inherit equally with those children biologically born into the family for purposes of estates and wills, absent a specific direction to the contrary.

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Grandparents Right to Notice

If a child has lived with a grandparent for at least 6 months within the 24-month period immediately preceding the filing of a petition for termination of parental rights pending adoption, the adoption entity shall provide notice to that grandparent of the hearing on the petition, unless the placement for adoption is the result of the death of the child’s parent and a different preference is stated in the parent’s will. This notice is not required in stepparent adoptions.

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Does Florida Have a Safe Haven Law?

Yes, this is outlined in s. 63.0423 and 383.50, and applies to children who are surrendered at a hospital, emergency medical services station or fire station. Florida’s Safe Haven Laws only apply to a child who a licensed physician reasonably believes is approximately 7 days old or younger at the time the child is surrendered. A parent may reclaim the surrendered infant until their parental rights are terminated.

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What is the Adoption Registry?

The Department of Children and Families maintains an Adoption Reunion Registry for the benefit of adopted children. At or about the time the birth parents sign the consent for adoption, the initial election whether to be on the registry is also generally made by a signed statement. If the birth parent elects to be listed on the registry, then that parent’s identity may be released to the child after the child attains the age of 18 years. The birth parent who elects to be on the registry should keep the registry advised of name and address changes, so current information can be supplied to the child.

Birth parents may change their minds concerning the registry as time passes. A birth parent may go on or off the registry as many times as they wish.

After attaining the age of 18, the child may inquire of the Adoption Reunion Registry to learn the identity of the birth parents. If the birth parent is listed, then that information will be given to the child. If the birth parent elects not to be on the registry, no identifying information will be given to the child and this information would need to be obtained through a court process.

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How Does an Unmarried Biological Father Register His Paternity?

Section 63.054, Florida Statutes, provides for the establishment of a Putative Father Registry in the Office of Vital Statistics of the Florida Department of Health. The purpose of the registry is to permit a man claiming to be the biological father of a child to assert his parenthood, independent of the mother, and preserve his rights as a parent. This registry also may expedite adoptions of children whose biological fathers are unwilling to assume responsibility for their children. If an unmarried biological father fails to register and take the actions available to him to establish a relationship with his child, his parental interest may be lost entirely.

An unmarried biological father must contact the Office of Vital Statistics, Florida Department of Health, to register his paternity. A man may register his paternity before the child’s birth, but not after the date a petition to terminate his parental rights is filed with the court or 30 days after he is served with a Notice of Intended Adoption Plan, whichever last occurs. All information concerning the registry is provided in each branch office of the Department of Health as well as on the Office of Vital Statistics website.

All fathers identified by the biological mother as a potential biological father are entitled to Notice of Adoption Plan, regardless of whether their consent is required to complete the adoption. Florida law requires that an adoption entity notify all known and locatable biological fathers before the court can terminate the biological rights in furtherance of an adoption. The adoption entity complies with this provision of the law by serving a 30-day Notice of Intended Adoption Plan or securing a properly executed Affidavit of Non-Paternity or Adoption Consent. A potential biological father has the right to notice only when the biological mother identifies him by the date she signs her adoption consent.

Questions concerning paternity, presumptions of paternity, or rights and responsibilities of a parent should be directed to an attorney.

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Information for Completing Claim of Paternity Form

By filing DH Form 1965, Claim of Paternity, the registrant expressly consents to submit to DNA testing upon the request of any party, the registrant or the adoption entity with respect to the child. The registrant may, at any time before the birth of the child for whom paternity is claimed, execute a notarized written revocation of the claim of paternity previously filed. Upon such revocation, the claim of paternity shall be deemed null and void.

If the court determines a registrant is not the father of the child, the court shall order the department to remove the registrant’s name from the registry.

It is the obligation of the registrant or, if designated, an agent or representative to notify and update the information contained in the registry in Vital Statistics of any change of address or change in designation of an agent or representative.

Vital Statistics will notify the registrant, in writing, of its receipt of a Claim of Paternity or a revocation filed on a Claim of Paternity.

Pursuant to s. 63.0541, Florida Statutes, information in the registry is confidential and may be released only to:

  • An adoption entity, upon filing of a request for a diligent search of the Florida Putative Father Registry in connection with the planned adoption of a child.
  • The registrant unmarried biological father upon receipt of a notarized request for a copy of his registry entry.
  • The birth mother, upon receipt of a notarized request for a copy of any registry entry in which she is identified as the birth mother.
  • The court, upon issuance of a court order concerning a petitioner acting pro se in an action under this chapter.

Florida Law requires a fee of $9 for filing and indexing a claim of paternity.

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Citizenship

Adoption of a child from another country is governed by federal law. Residents of Florida must comply with the state’s Chapter 63 home study requirements and follow the instructions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.

Children adopted abroad by parents who are present at the foreign court hearing become United States citizens when they enter the United States of America. Parents who are not present at the foreign court must file formal adoption proceedings in Florida to complete their adoption and for the child to become a United States citizen.

The material in this pamphlet represents general advice. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your case.

This pamphlet is produced as a public service for consumers by The Florida Bar.

[Updated March 2023]