Adopting a Stepchild: What to do If the Adoption is Contested
You have been lucky enough to fall in love with and marry someone with a child. You parent your stepchild on a daily basis, helping with homework, coaching soccer teams, and calming fears after a bad dream. You have a bond with your stepchild and you are a family. Under the law, however, you do not have any parental rights. A stepparent adoption will allow you to have all of the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent.
In Florida, both biological parents must consent to the adoption. When you adopt your stepchild, your spouse will retain his or her parental rights after the adoption is finalized. The other biological parent’s rights will be terminated. The reasons why a biological parent would agree to have their parental rights terminated for a stepparent adoption can be extremely varied. It may be that the biological parent has not been involved in the child’s life. Other times, the biological parent agrees because a stepparent adoption will terminate their obligation for child support. The biological parent may recognize that adoption is what is best for the child. So long as the other biological parent knowingly, freely and voluntarily signs a formal Consent with the required statutory language, you will be able to proceed with your plans for a stepparent adoption.
What happens if the Stepparent Adoption is Contested?
Even if you and your spouse believe that a stepparent adoption would be best for your stepchild, the other biological parent may not agree. Sometimes that parent has not participated in the child’s life but still refuses to sign a Consent to the stepparent adoption. It may be that the other biological parent sees your request for stepparent adoption as a wake-up call to begin actively parenting. The other parent may have been sporadically involved with your stepchild over the years and believe that limited involvement has been good enough. The other biological parent may blame all of his or her parental shortcomings on you or your current spouse. Whatever the reasons why the biological parent is unwilling to agree, the fact remains that you will need to ask the Court to waive the other biological parent’s Consent in order to move forward with your stepparent adoption.
A contested stepparent adoption is a court case. You and your spouse should meet with your adoption attorney and weigh the pros and cons of the situation so that you may make an informed decision as to how to move forward. If you are aware that the other biological parent is not in agreement with your stepparent adoption plans, your attorney may bifurcate the case into two parts, filing a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights Pending Stepparent Adoption first and waiting to file the Petition for Stepparent Adoption after the Court has ruled on the termination issue. The other biological parent will be served with the adoption paperwork and will have the opportunity to respond. Prior to a hearing on the issue, both sides will engage in discovery.
Often times when adopting a stepchild, there will be depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents related to the issues at hand. You may be ordered to attend mediation to see if an agreement can be reached. If the parties do not resolve the conflict on their own, the Court will hear the issue and determine if the other biological parent’s rights should be terminated. If the judge rules that the other biological parent’s consent should be waived and his or her parental rights should be terminated, then you will be able to complete your stepparent adoption. If the Judge does not rule in your favor, then you will not be able to proceed with your stepparent adoption at this time.
Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in a Contested Stepparent Adoption
When adopting a stepchild in Florida, the Court may waive a biological parent’s consent to a stepparent adoption and terminate that person’s parental rights in the following situations:
- When a parent abandons the child. Florida defines abandonment as “a situation in which the parent or person having legal custody of a child while being able, makes little or no provision for the child’s support or makes little or no effort to communicate with the child, which situation is sufficient to evince an intent to reject parental responsibilities.” The Court will look to see if the parent has tried to establish a positive parent-child relationship or made a substantial contribution to provide for the child’s needs.
- When a parent’s actions threaten the welfare or safety of the child. This is not limited to the child’s physical health. If the biological parent’s actions, or lack of action, demonstrate a willful disregard for the physical, mental or emotional health of the child, the Court can rule that the biological parent’s consent to the stepparent adoption be waived. As a general rule, an isolated incident may not be enough to meet this burden. The biological parent’s actions need to be to such a degree that the parent poses a continuing threat to the child’s well-being. If the parent did not take action to protect the child or the child’s sibling from abuse, abandonment or neglect, this could be grounds to terminate their parental rights so that a stepparent adoption may go forward.
- When a parent is incarcerated. A court may terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent if the parent is incarcerated and will remain incarcerated for a significant portion of the child’s life or if the parent has established a pattern of behavior that shows they will likely be incarcerated for a significant portion of the child’s life. If the parent has committed certain violent offenses or sexually-related offenses, his or her consent to the adoption may be waived by the Court.
Florida takes the parental rights of biological parents very seriously. The Court will not terminate parental rights in contested stepparent adoptions without clear and convincing evidence. If you are considering a stepparent adoption and you believe that that the matter will be contested, you should consult an adoption attorney.
Contact Julie Beth Jouben P.A. Today for more Information about Adopting a Stepchild in Florida
Contact family law attorney, Julie Beth Jouben P.A., for legal assistance when adopting a stepchild in Florida and for any family law questions. You can schedule a free legal consultation by calling our office today at our office.