adopting a child in Florida

Adopting a Child in Florida Requirements: 8 Steps

Those planning a vacation in Florida often do their homework to check out where they are going and what they will need to have for their time in the Sunshine State. Is a fishing license required to be purchased if they plan to go fishing? Must they make a reservation in advance to go to the restaurant they have heard so much about? In the same way, couples planning to adopt a child in Florida and expectant parents considering an adoptive placement there also need to do some research. Being prepared by knowing the requirements for adopting a child in Florida will make their life-changing adoption journey smoother. 

In order to do one’s homework, where can a prospective adoptive parent or expectant parent turn? The best source for knowing what the requirements are for adopting a child in Florida is Florida law. Because adoption is governed by state law, each state has its own set of adoption laws. Knowing what the requirements are to adopt in Kansas is interesting, but Kansas law requirements are not the requirements for adopting a child in Florida. Florida law controls what occurs in Florida.

Not a lawyer? Not a problem. Any citizen can see Florida adoption law online for himself. Florida laws, technically called statutes, can be found on the Florida legislature’s website. Chapter 63 of the Florida laws specifically address adoption. What does this chapter say about adopting a child in Florida requirements?

1. Marital Status (Prospective Adoptive Parents)

A good starting to point when seeking to adopt is to determine if you are someone whom Florida law allows to do so. Those who may adopt are listed in Section 63.042 of the Florida Statutes; this list contains three categories of individuals who are eligible to adopt: a husband and wife jointly; a married individual without his or her spouse also adopting if that spouse consents to the spouse adopting without him or her; and an unmarried adult. An unmarried couple or two unmarried individuals may not jointly adopt a child together since those relationships are not listed as people who may adopt. 

The Florida laws on eligibility for adopting can and do change over time. For example, homosexuals were previously excluded from adopting. That law was changed within the last decade.

2. Age (Prospective Adoptive Parents and Expectant Parents)

The Florida adoption laws do not address the age of a prospective adoptive parent when setting out adopting a child in Florida requirements. No cutoff age is given; by implication, then, there is not a maximum age over which an individual cannot adopt. 

Age may also be a concern for an expectant parent. Is she too young to decide to make an adoptive placement? Must parental approval be obtained if she is under 18? While a minor may not be able to buy a car or sign a contract in Florida, she can consent to the adoption of her child. Florida law expressly authorizes a minor parent to make such a decision on her own. The only limitation is that, if the minor is age 14 or younger, his or her consent must be witnessed by a parent, guardian, or court-appointed guardian ad litem. A consent given by a minor may not later be revoked when he or she reaches legal age.

3. Pre-Placement Approval (Prospective Adoptive Parents)

One of the requirements for adopting a child in Florida is that a favorable preliminary home study must be completed before a child is legally authorized to be placed in the prospective adoptive home. Placement may occur prior to completion of the home study if the prospective adoptive home is a Florida licensed foster home though.

If adoptive parents are not Florida residents, they may utilize a home study prepared by an authorized entity or individual from their home state. Florida residents must obtain a favorable home study that complies with the requirements set out in Section 63.092 of the Florida Statutes. Once this home study is completed, it is valid for a period of one year; after that point, a home study update would be required.

Florida law contains exceptions to the home study requirement. When an adult is being adopted or a child is being adopted by a stepparent or a relative, no home study is necessary. The court can, however, require a home study in such cases if good cause for doing so is shown.

The minimum steps for conducting a home study are listed in the Florida Statutes. Home study providers, at their discretion, may require something further from prospective adoptive parents. No matter what items are required, the bottom line is that the home study provider must give a favorable preliminary approval.

Florida law calls for five things to be included in the performance of a home study. The first requirement is an interview with prospective adoptive parents. It is not enough for a home study provider to merely review paperwork on and read about the intended parents. Direct contact with them is necessary.

A second requirement is a background check. The check to be undertaken is twofold. Florida’s central abuse registry has to be contacted to determine if any reports have been made about a prospective adoptive parent. Criminal background checks must also be completed.

The fact that an abuse record or an arrest record is found does not automatically disqualify an individual from adopting. An unverified abuse report is not grounds for an unfavorable home study. Likewise, the nature of the charge for an arrest must be considered as well as when that arrest occurred. If the applicant is 35 and has a clean record except for a DUI when he was 18, then he is not likely to be disqualified from adopting for that reason alone. 

An assessment of the home in which the prospective adoptive child will be residing is the third requirement for a Florida home study. The objective is to determine if there are any concerns about the safety and well-being of the child in that home. The home study provider will assess whether the house is large enough for another resident and whether there are any safety hazards. Since many residences in Florida have pools, for example, the home study provider would determine if any barriers are in place to keep a child from going into the pool unattended such as a fence. The fact that a prospective adoptive parent is in lawful possession of a firearm or ammunition may not serve as the basis for determining unsuitability for an adoptive placement. 

Since it is expensive to raise a child, the financial security of the prospective adoptive parents is examined. The Florida statutes do not set a specific dollar amount or required household income. The determination is merely whether the intended parents have the financial resources to care for the child. Production of bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns are typically required for this purpose.

Home studies must include an educational component. The home study provider needs to document the education on adoptive parenting which has been required and met. Some providers may direct the intended parents to take parenting classes. Others may instead identify written material on the topic for the couple to read.

These five requirements are the absolute minimum for a valid home study under Florida law. A common additional requirement in a Florida home study is the provision of current medical reports. The existence of debilitating conditions, a terminal illness, or a substance-abuse problem would impact the ability to parent and must be taken into account in granting or denying approval. If pets are in the household, the home study provider may request that current vaccination records be produced. 

4. Use of Authorized Home Study Provider (Prospective Adoptive Parents)

Specific individuals and entities are designated under Florida law as being authorized to conduct home studies for prospective adoptive parents. Licensed child-placing agencies, certain registered child-caring agencies, and licensed professionals (such as social workers and mental health counselors) may all produce adoption home studies. As pointed out in this article on Florida adoption, the website of the Florida Adoption Council is a good place to locate licensed agencies and individuals who are licensed to assist with home studies and other needs.

5. Background Forms and Interview (Expectant Parents)        

Expectant parents will be asked to complete a family, social, and medical history form as an early step in the adoption process where a non-related child is being adopted. The provision of such information is key for equipping prospective adoptive parents to decide whether they should pursue a placement opportunity. This will also allow them to have background information for the pediatrician who will be treating their adopted child. Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services (“DCF”) has developed a form that must be filled out and subsequently attached to any petition to terminate parental rights.

In addition to filling out required forms, expectant parents are required to undergo an interview with a representative of the adoption entity about their placement decision. This requirement may be excused by the court. The objective of this interview is to determine that the expectant parent is making the decision to adopt freely, knowingly, and voluntarily. The birth parent is interviewed privately so no outside influences will impede her ability to speak openly. A consent form may not be taken with just this interview having been held unless the consent requests the court waive the interview requirement.

6. Consent (Expectant Parents)

A consent is a document a birth parent signs to indicate his or her desire for parental rights to be terminated so the child may be adopted. However, in Florida, a birth parent may not sign a consent until after the child’s birth. Florida law imposes a waiting period for the birth mother, but not the birth father, to sign a consent when a newborn is being adopted. She cannot sign until 48 hours after the child’s birth or when she is notified in writing in hospital release paperwork or on her patient chart that she is authorized for release from the hospital. 

Regardless of the age of the child being adopted, a birth parent’s consent must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary; the birth parent has a right to select one of the two witnesses. If the child to be adopted is under the age of six months, the consent is final when signed; if the child is over six months of age, the birth parent may revoke his or her consent within three business days. Specific steps as detailed in the Florida adoption law must be followed for the consent to be revoked. Once signed and any period for revoking has passed, the consent may only be set aside if the court finds by a higher than normal evidentiary standard that the consent was obtained through fraud or duress.

7. Court Proceedings (Prospective Adoptive Parents and Expectant Parents)

Even if the parties know each other and all agree an adoption should occur, they cannot merely have the birth mother informally sign a piece of paper saying she wants the couple to adopt her child. Court proceedings must occur. Chapter 63 of the Florida Statutes explains in detail what court process must be followed for an adoption to be finalized.

Adoption is a legal process, so formal legal proceedings are required for an adoption to occur. The legal nature of the process is discussed in more detail in “What’s Law Got to Do with It? The Legal Nature of Adoption.” 

The signing of a consent alone does not make the child to be adopted the legal child of the prospective adoptive parents. Only a court judgment can do that. The court process in Florida to complete an adoption is twofold. First, the rights of any legal or biological parent initially connected to the child must be terminated. A consent form signed by a birth parent gives the court a basis to terminate parental rights. If a birth parent has signed a consent, then, he or she should not have to appear in court for the termination of parental rights hearing.

After parental rights are terminated, the second step in the court process is to petition the court to make the prospective adoptive parents the child’s legal parents. A request may be made at that time to change the child’s name to whatever name the adoptive parents have chosen. Finalization of the adoption can occur no sooner than 90 days following placement, so the process of finalizing an adoption is one which will take several months. Even if 90 days has elapsed, an adoption still cannot be finalized unless all legal prerequisites such as completion of post-placement supervision have been met.

8. Completion of Post-Placement Supervision (Prospective Adoptive Parents)

Before an adoption can be finalized, a final home investigation must be completed. The agency or professional conducting that investigation has to evaluate the placement and make a recommendation to the court on the granting of the petition for adoption. The evaluation is based on information from the preliminary home study as well as two visits with the adoptive parents to determine the suitability of the placement. One of the required visits must take place in the adoptive home.

Learning in advance about adopting a child in Florida requirements can help those involved in the process be prepared to make informed decisions. This preparation assists not only prospective adoptive parents but expectant parents as well. Prospective adoptive parents need to know the requirements as to who can adopt, who can conduct their home study, what steps must be taken to receive home study approval, how approval to finalize is obtained, and the court proceedings to make the adoption legal. Expectant parents can benefit from finding out that they can consent to an adoption regardless of their minority, that they will need to complete background forms and be interviewed about their placement decision, and when and how a consent can be taken. Whether an expectant parent or a prospective adoptive parent, individuals need to inquire about the requirements for adopting a child in Florida.

Alice Murray