- The average age of adopted children in Florida was 6.5 in 2012.
- Children aged 9 years or older are less likely to be adopted than younger children.
- More than 5,000 children were waiting adoption in Florida in 2012.
When you become partners with a person with a child, you also develop a relationship with that child. Should you marry your partner, you may consider adopting your stepchild legally.
In some cases, such as with an active biological parent, this won’t be possible. In other cases, however, a stepparent may indeed adopt their stepchild, making them their legal responsibility. Here’s how stepparent adoption works, based on the law and our experience as a team of Orlando family law attorneys.
Step Parent Adoption Scenarios
An “absent parent” is a biological parent of your step child who is no longer married to the other biological parent. A “missing parent” is the term used for an absent parent who is unable to be located.
1. With Consent
If the absent parent consents to the adoption or has passed away, the process of adopting your stepchild is a fairly easy one. Your attorney will file a motion with the court of jurisdiction and you’ll speak to a representative of the Social Service agency.
You’ll appear before a judge for a hearing and the adoption decree will be filed with the county clerk’s office. This is the smoothest type of stepchild adoption there is.
2. With a Missing Parent
In some cases, you won’t be able to locate the absent parent in order to obtain their consent. This makes the process a more complicated one. Your attorney will file documents with the court stating that the absent parent has abandoned the child in question. Your attorney may alternatively choose to state that the absent parent failed to meet their parental obligations.
Once papers are filed, the Social Service Department will conduct a home study and consent to the adoption. The judge in the case has the discretion to deem these two things unnecessary.
3. No Consent
In some instances, an absent parent won’t consent to the adoption. This will make it difficult to adopt your stepchild. If the legal parent still supports and is in contact with their child, and contests the adoption, the judge will typically side with the legal parent.
If, however, the absent parent doesn’t consent but doesn’t contest the petition, you may be permitted to go forward with the adoption.
It should be noted that if there is more than one child and all children share the same absent parent, you only need to file a single petition. If those children have different absent parents, you’ll need to file separate petitions with the court of jurisdiction.
The process may not follow the same path if the children have different biological parents and that’s a possibility you should be prepared for.
Name Change After Adoption
You and your spouse, and your child, may decide to change your child’s legal name after the adoption. This is most typical in the case where it’s the stepfather who has adopted the child. You may choose to change the child’s name to your own or give the child a last name that’s completely different than yours and your spouse’s.
In order to change the child’s name, you’ll simply put the new name on the decree. As soon as the decree is filed with the court, your child’s new name will become legal. You may also choose to alter the name on your child’s birth certificate.
The old birth certificate will be sealed and the new one will make it appear as though the child is your natural one. Many parents choose to complete this step so that there is no confusion as the child ages and reaches adulthood, needing copies of identification for various situations.
Benefits of Adopting Your Stepchild
When you adopt your stepchild, you become legally responsible for the minor. You establish a relationship that may be stronger than the “step” relationship you’ve entered. Beyond this, there are definite benefits of adopting your stepchild.
- Formalization: All parties involved achieve a feeling of formalization when an adoption is complete. There’s a sense of security that comes with adoption that can be beneficial to the parent and child.
- Divorce: In the event of a divorce, a stepparent retains no rights to any unadopted children. With adoption, the adoptive parent retains visitation and decision making rights, just as the biological parent does. Along with this, however, comes the legal responsibility to pay child support. This is something that should be considered when weighing the choice to adopt your stepchild.
- Decisions: Once you adopt your stepchild, you have the legal right to make decisions regarding their medical care, education and other life issues. This can be important to a stepparent who shares in the rearing of a child.
Our Orlando Family Law Attorneys are Here for You
While adopting a stepchild can be a positive experience, it’s not something to be done without considering all relevant factors. A Social Services counselor can answer questions and help you come to a decision that makes sense for you and your family. An experienced family law attorney can also be an invaluable asset in the decision making process.
If you’re considering adopting your stepchild in Orlando, reach out to our team. We are experienced Orlando family law attorneys and are ready to assist you in any way we can. Call our office today to schedule your free case evaluation and learn more about how we can assist you throughout the process of making your family a legal one.