The following was reprinted in part with permission of The Florida Bar. To order a free pamphlet on this subject send a self addressed, stamped legal size envelope to Consumer Pamphlets, The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
Lawyers and judges receive many inquiries from persons who wish to adopt a child. This pamphlet has been prepared to help you understand the adoption laws and procedures and to find a child for adoption in a safe way. Adoption laws and procedures in Florida reflect the interests of the State and the community in protecting the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents in adoption proceedings.
WHAT IS ADOPTION?
Adoption is the legal procedure by which a child becomes, through court action, part of a family other than that of his or her birth parents. Adoption is a serious matter for all concerned. It determines the entire future of the child because it permanently severs ties with his or her birth parents and relatives and transfers the child into a new family where he or she will remain until grown. The new family is responsible to provide the child with the care and guidance necessary in life and that will determine the kind of adult he or she will become. To 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. Additionally, the birth parents are permanently relieved of all responsibilities of the child's care and financial needs. To the adoptive parents, adoption means providing for and undertaking the care of a child who will have the same obligations as to a child naturally born to them.
Any minor (a person under 18 years ) present within the State when the Petition for Adoption is filed may be adopted. Sibling groups may also be adopted together.
An adult may also be adopted. This leaflet deals with adoption of minors. The procedure for adults is similar but considerably simpler.
WHO MAY ADOPT A CHILD?
Adults who live and work in the State, are of good character, and have the ability to nurture and provide for a child may adopt. Unmarried adults, as well as married couples, may adopt. A step-parent may adopt his or her spouse's children. The adoption takes place in the county in which the adoptive family lives unless for privacy reasons it is deemed necessary to file the Petition for Adoption in another county.
A person may not be prohibited from adopting solely because of a physical disability unless it is determined that the disability renders the person incapable of being an effective parent.
Florida law specifies that homosexuals are not eligible to adopt.
HOW CAN AN ADOPTABLE CHILD BE LOCATED?
A child may be placed for adoption by two general sources: agencies and intermediaries. Agencies may be private or public. All private agencies are licensed by the State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). The only public child placing agency is HRS. Private adoptions are handled by an intermediary. Only doctors and lawyers may act as intermediaries and the proposed adoption must be reported to the Court. The adoption of a child across State lines must first be approved by the Interstate Adoption Compact Administrator, which is a section of HRS. All of the restrictions concerning who may place a child for adoption and the requirements for reporting of the proposed adoption are to protect the best interests of the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents, as well as to prevent "black market baby business."
HOW DOES AN AGENCY OR INTERMEDIARY HELP ADOPTIVE PARENTS?
An adoption agency will perform a home study of the prospective adoptive parents to assure that the child's best interests will be served by being placed in their home. The agency will also provide the education and counseling necessary to assist the adoptive parents in becoming ready for the child and providing a good, nurturing home for the child.
A private intermediary does much the same thing, but uses the services of an agency or private social worker who is licensed and achieved at least the master's level education. No child can be placed in the adoptive home until the home study has been successfully completed.
Additionally, prior to placing the child, the agency or intermediary must have acquired the consent of the birth parents. Agencies do not place a child in the adoptive home until the rights of the birth parents have been terminated by the court and the agency has been appointed as the child's guardian. Thereafter, the child is placed in the adoptive home and the placement is monitored by the agency for a period of time determined by the agency, usually between 90 days and one year. During this time, the agency social worker maintains contact with the adoptive family to assure that the child's best interests are being protected and promoted, and that the bonding between the child and adoptive family is going well.
When the child is placed in the adoptive home through an intermediary, the same private or agency social worker who performed the home study generally assists post placement. The counselor will visit with the adoptive family on at least two occasions to make sure the child and adoptive family are bonding well together and that the child's best interests are being promoted.
Intermediaries may place a child with the adoptive family after the favorable home study has been completed, the child is born and the birth parents' consent has been received. Unlike Agency placements, no further court action must take place prior to placement. The intermediary, relying on the finality of the consent for adoption, places the child directly with the adoptive family. If the child is an infant generally the birth parents' consents are executed at or before discharge from the hospital after the child's birth and the child is placed with the Adoptive family directly upon discharge from the hospital after birth.
No home study or post-placement home visits are required when the adopting parent is a step parent or a relative to the children the third degree.
WHO MUST CONSENT TO THE ADOPTION?
Unless the consent is excused by the court, the proper written consent for adoption must be received from.
a. The birth mother.
b. The birth father if:
1. The minor child was conceived or born while the father was married to the mother.
2. The minor child is his child because of a prior adoption.
3. The minor child has been established by the court to be his child, usually through a paternity action.
4. The minor child has been acknowledged by the birth father to be his child. This must have been done in writing by the birth father, signed in the presence of a competent witness, and filed with HRS.
5. The birth father has provided support for the child in a repetitive, customary manner. If the child is being placed for adoption as an infant, then the support must have been provided to the birth mother for the unborn child's benefit.
c. If the child is 12 years old or more, the child must also consent in writing to the adoption
d. If the child has lived with a grandparent for six months or more, that grandparent may have priority rights to adopt the child.
WHAT IS THE ADOPTION PROCEDURE AFTER PLACEMENT?
After a child is placed for adoption with an adoptive family, the adoptive family will desire to have the adoption finalized. To do this, the adoptive family must file a Petition for Adoption with the Clerk of Court. This is generally filed in the county in which the adoptive family resides. However, if privacy of the adoptive family is a concern, the adoption may be filed in any county within the State of Florida. The Petition must be filed within thirty days after the child is placed with the adoptive family. However, the matter cannot be heard for final hearing until the child has been with the adoptive family at least 90 days. The exceptions to this 90 day rule are where:
a. One of the petitioners is related to the child by blood, like a grandparent, or
b. One of the petitioners is a step-parent of the child.
The Petition for Adoption is generally prepared and filed through the services of an attorney. If the child was placed through the services of an intermediary-attorney, generally that same attorney handles the preparation and filing of the necessary legal papers for the finalization of the adoption. Notice of the Adoption proceedings and the final hearing may be required by the birth parents. This is also generally handled by the attorney. Notice to HRS is not required any longer.
WHAT IS NECESSARY TO FINALIZE THE ADOPTION?
The adoption is finalized at a final hearing. The adoptive parent(s) must be present, as well as the child or children being adopted. The 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 that all requirements of the statutes and court have been met, the judge will sign a Final Judgment of Adoption. In a private adoption, with the signing of this court order, the parental rights of the birth parents are permanently severed and the same rights are instated in the adoptive parents. If the child was placed through an agency, the birth parent's rights will already have been severed through prior court action, many times prior to the child being placed with the adoptive family. Thus, in an agency adoption, the Final Judgment of Adoption only awards the adoptive family parental rights of the child(ren).
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF THE ADOPTION?
As a result of the Final Judgment of Adoption hearing granted, the adoptive family permanently assumes all parental rights and responsibilities for the child, and the birth parents' parental rights and responsibilities are similarly terminated. The first effect of this is that the child's name is generally changed to that by which the adoptive family desires that he or she be known. This is accomplished with the vital statistics office of the state in which the child was born. The paperwork for this is prepared by the attorney or agency. The original birth certificate is sealed away and not readily available again to anyone. A new birth certificate is prepared which shows the adoptive parents to be the child's natural parents and states the child's new name. This new birth certificate is mailed to the attorney or agency and it is later forwarded to the adoptive family.
Once the new birth certificate is received by the adoptive family, they may apply for a new Social Security number, a passport for the child, and open accounts on behalf of the child.
For all legal intents and purposes, the child will be considered the natural child of the adoptive family. Further, the adopted child will stand on an equal footing with all other children that may then be or later come into the adoptive family, regardless of whether the other children are naturally born or adopted to the family. This is true with respect to wills and estates or later if the adoptive parents divorce. Thus, except for the biological realities, it is as though the child was born to the adoptive family initially
WHAT IS THE ADOPTION REGISTRY?
The Bureau of Vital Statistics, which is a section of HRS, maintains an Adoption Registry for the benefit of adopted children. At or about the time that the birth parents sign the consent for adoption, the initial election to be on the Registry or not is also generally made by a signed, notarized 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. On the other hand, if the birth parent elects not to be on the Registry, no information will be given to the child after the child attains age 18.
A birth parent may change his or her mind concerning the Registry as time passes in life. A birth parent may go on or off the Registry as many time as necessary until the child attains the age of 18.
After the child attains the age of 18, if he or she desires to learn the identity of the birth parents, the child may inquire of the Adoption Registry. If the birth parent is listed, then that information will be given to the child. If the birth parent is not listed, it is because no authorization was given to HRS to release this information, and no identifying information will be released. Unless the child makes an inquiry, no information is extended from the Registry.
If the birth parent is listed on the Registry and the child makes an inquiry so as to receive the identity of the birth parent, the decision of whether or not the child desires to contact the birth parent lies with the child.
The citizenship of an adopted child is not affected by an adoption. Thus, a child who is a citizen of a foreign country and not the United States will continue to be a citizen of that same foreign country. The child does not automatically become a citizen of the United States because of the adoption by a US citizen. Rather, the adoptive family will need to apply for naturalization of the child through the federal court. This is generally handled by an attorney who specializes in immigration and naturalization law.
Blair & Prather PA, 2138-40 Hoople Street, Fort Myers, Florida