Adopting a baby in Florida

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Adopting a Baby in Florida

Many things about Florida are common knowledge. Everyone knows that Disneyworld is in Orlando, that Florida is a popular tourist destination, and that President Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate can be found in the Sunshine State. What most people don’t know, however, are details about adopting a baby in Florida. Here are a dozen things you should know about this process.

1. Adoption is not a DIY project.

With the internet at their fingertips, people today have access to instructions and videos on how to do just about anything on their own. They can learn how to do a spreadsheet, how to change the oil in their car, and how to make a cheesecake. Adopting a baby in Florida is not a do-it-yourself task. Instead, as pointed out in this article, adoption is a legal process involving court proceedings. In adoptions occurring in Florida, licensed Florida attorneys or agencies are also involved. Prospective adoptive parents and expectant parents play a role, but the court and a licensed entity or individual play essential roles in the process as well.

2. Florida adoption laws are accessible to all.

While prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting a baby in Florida struggle to navigate the process themselves, there are some things which they can do on their own. Reading the Florida adoptions laws is one of those things 

As noted in this article, adoption is controlled by state law. Each state has its own set of laws governing the adoption process. Only attorneys licensed by the State of Florida may practice law in Florida. Nevertheless, anyone can access the state’s laws, formally referred to as statutes, which set out the framework for the adoption process in Florida. The text of all Florida laws is available on the Internet and can be found by searching for “Online Sunshine.” 

The Florida statutes are broken down into chapters by subject. Chapter 63 specifically addresses adoption. That chapter is further broken down into 50 or so sections. By reviewing the list of titles for these sections, which one to read to find out more about a particular adoption topic, such as the execution of consent (see F.S. 63.082) or who must consent to adoption (see F.S. 63.062), may be determined.

3. Prospective adoptive parents may help expectant mothers financially. 

Having a baby impacts an expectant mother economically. It may limit her ability to work if she has complications or is sick. If she is unemployed, her being pregnant may be considered a liability to a future employer. She will need to purchase maternity clothes as her regular clothing will not fit once the pregnancy progresses. Transportation expenses may increase with regular trips to the OB’s office or to the lab for bloodwork. What if she doesn’t have the money to cover these expenses?

While Florida law does not allow babies to be bought and sold, these statutes do recognize that there are certain circumstances when prospective adoptive parents may assist an expectant mother financially. However, these circumstances are limited and clearly spelled out. If the situation does not meet the statutory criteria for payment, then the financial assistance is unlawful. Since violations of the Florida adoption law may occur by paying money to or on behalf of an expectant mother, it is important for a prospective adoptive parent to consult with a licensed Florida attorney or agency before payments are made for her living expenses.

A key determination as to whether a payment is authorized by Florida law is whether the expense is “reasonable” and “necessary;” the expense for which help is required must also be an item that the birth mother herself cannot pay. This determination is fact-based and must be made on a case by case basis. For example, it might be reasonable and necessary to help an expectant mother with her rent if she is on bed rest and cannot work; however, it would not be reasonable or necessary to do so if she is working and has sufficient income to pay rent on her own. 

Financial assistance to an expectant mother is limited in duration. It may only be provided during the pregnancy and the six-week postpartum period. 

Florida adoption law limits the amount of financial assistance that can be provided as well. Without prior court approval, $5,000.00 is the maximum amount of living and medical expenses that can be covered for the birth mother by the prospective adoptive parents.

To protect against abuses, Florida law requires that an affidavit of expenses be filed with the court in connection with an adoption. Therefore, the court must review and approve what living and medical expenses have been paid by the prospective adoptive parents adopting a baby in Florida. 

4. Adoptive parents must be approved to adopt a baby. 

Not just anyone can adopt a baby. Since an infant is a helpless individual, Florida law aims to ensure that a child is being placed in a safe and healthy environment. If the prospective adoptive parents adopting a baby in Florida are not related to the child, then they will have to undergo a rigorous background investigation to be approved to receive an adoptive placement. That background investigation is called a home study. A favorable preliminary home study must have been completed before a child may legally be placed in an adoptive home.

The Florida statutes identify who may conduct the required preliminary investigation of a prospective adoptive couple. These individuals include licensed child-placing agencies and licensed professionals such as a clinical social worker or a mental health counselor. In addition, Florida law lists what requirements for a home study. Among those tasks is an interview with the prospective adoptive couple, a determination of their financial security, checks of the abuse registry and law enforcement records, and a physical assessment of the prospective adoptive home.

5. There’s a waiting period for a birth mother to sign a consent following delivery.

No consent for the adoption of a newborn will ever be taken in the delivery room. Florida law imposes a mandatory waiting period for signing this important paperwork. That time period is the 48 hours following the baby’s delivery or when a written discharge authorization is entered in the birth mother’s hospital record. No waiting period applies to a birth father; he may sign his consent at any point following the child’s birth.

6. A birth father may legally agree to the adoption before or after the baby’s birth.

While a birth mother cannot legally obligate herself to make an adoptive placement prior to the birth of her child, a birth father can. By signing a pre-birth Affidavit of Nonpaternity, a birth father, or man claimed to be the birth father or a possible birth father by the birth mother, obligates himself to the court terminating his parental rights, if any, to the child. If there is ground to terminate his parental rights is not obtained pre-birth, a birth father or possible birth father can sign a consent to the adoption after the baby is born. Execution of that consent is also a ground for any parental rights he has to be terminated.

7. Consent given for a child under six months cannot be revoked.

Imagine a case where an adoptive family will accept the placement of a newborn, take the child home, bond with the baby, and then be asked to give the baby back because the birth mother has changed her mind. Thankfully, this fear is unfounded. Under Florida law, when a birth mother signs a consent for adoption for a child under the age of six months, that consent is binding and irrevocable. Unlike in some states, she has no window of opportunity to change her mind; no revocation period exists. When she places the pen down from signing on the consent’s dotted line, that is the point of no return. The adoption must still be finalized through court proceedings to make the adoptive parents the child’s legal parents, but the birth mother’s adoption decision is permanent.

8. Post-placement supervision follows placement.

A favorable preliminary home study is not the only required investigation conducted of the prospective adoptive parents. Scrutiny of the adoptive home continues once a baby is placed there for adoption. Post-placement supervision follows placement; this supervision allows for a determination of the suitability of the adoptive home and whether finalization of the adoption is in the child’s best interest.

A minimum of two scheduled visits with the minor and the adoptive parents take place during post-placement supervision. This supervision must be conducted by a licensed child-placing agency or professional authorized by Florida law. At least one of the supervisory visits has to occur in the adoptive home. A written report of the findings from this post-placement supervision is then filed with the court; the report will include a recommendation as to whether the adoption petition should be granted.

9. Adoption is a confidential process.

During an adoption, a great deal of information will be gathered on the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parents such as full names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security Numbers, and medical history. But the privacy of this information is protected by the Florida adoption statutes which expressly recognize the confidential nature of the adoption process. All papers and records related to the adoption, whether in the court file or in the office of the adoption attorney or agency, are deemed confidential and may not be reviewed by others except by court order. 

10. Adoption is not finalized immediately after placement. 

The wheels of justice are said to grind slowly. For adoptive parents, the finalization of their baby’s adoption cannot come soon enough. Florida adoption law, however, imposes a minimum amount of time which must elapse before finalization may occur. This article emphasizes that in Florida, finalization cannot take place any sooner than 90 days after the physical placement of the baby in the adoptive home. Therefore, it is an absolute minimum of three months before a judgment of adoption can be entered following the baby’s placement. 

11. A new birth certificate is issued following an adoption.

Florida law requires a birth certificate to be filed within five days after a live birth in that state. An infant to be adopted will, then, have an original birth certificate issued showing the birth mother as the child’s mother and listing the name, if any, which she has given the child. Prospective adoptive parents adopting a baby in Florida will not obtain a birth certificate for the child in his or her adopted name and listing them as parents until after the adoption is finalized. 

After the adoption final hearing, the clerk of court must send Florida form DH 527, a Certified Statement of Final Decree of Adoption, to the vital records office within 30 days. A new birth certificate, referred to as an amended birth certificate, will be issued by that office. That certificate will not bear the word “amended” or “adopted.” No one seeing that birth certificate alone will be able to tell that the child is adopted. The original birth record is then sealed and is no longer accessible except by court order. 

12. Adoptions cannot be legally challenged after a certain period of time.

Couples adopting a baby in Florida want to make sure their new forever family is really a forever family. They do not want someone popping up in the future to overturn the adoption. What if the birth mother lied and did not name the actual birth father? Can he show up in five years to claim his child and set aside the adoption?

Florida law aims to achieve the stability and permanence of an adoptive home and to avoid the disruption of an adopted child’s life. To do so, the Florida adoption statutes expressly state that paperwork attacking a final judgment of adoption cannot be filed on any grounds after one year from the entry of the judgment terminating parental rights. This language means that not even fraud would serve as a basis for such court action. It also makes clear that a court clerk is not to even accept paperwork sought to be filed more than one year from the adoption final judgment. A court will never hear this type of claim on its merits because the clerk will not allow this type of action to be commenced.

For prospective adoptive parents adopting a baby in Florida and expectant parents considering a placement in Florida, knowing these twelve things about the adoption process better prepares them for their adoption journeys. Expectant parents and adoptive parents alike need to realize adoption is a legal procedure that occurs within the framework set by the Florida adoption statutes. These statutes contain an entire chapter on adoption and can be accessed by anyone via the Internet. They set out the timeframes, requirements for being able to adopt, and the steps of the adoption process in this state, among other topics. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and a journey to understanding the process of adopting a baby in Florida begins with grasping these twelve points.

Alice Murray