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Adoption

Adoption is a wonderful opportunity for individuals and couples to become parents, and to provide a child with a forever home. When you adopt, you are taking a child into your home and offering to give that child a better life than they would have had otherwise. Through adoption, you gain the opportunity to raise a child, provide opportunities for the child that might otherwise be lacking and experience the wonders of parenthood.

The Wheeler Firm represents clients seeking to adopt a child Walton and Okaloosa counties. If you’re ready to add a member to your family through adoption, we’re here to help. We will help you navigate the legal requirements and navigate the procedures required to adopt a child through a Florida court court, thereby allowing you to confidently focus on preparing for life after the adoption with a new child.

The Basics Of Adoption

The first step in any adoption case is to consult with an experienced Florida adoption attorney. You need to understand the legal process, basic requirements to file the adoption case, and costs associated with the adoption. For instance, some adoptions require an adoption home study and others do not. The required documentation will vary depending on the circumstances, including the relationship of the adopting parents to the child, if any. An attorney can help you plan for each step and give you confidence in the adoption process. Adoption is not a quick or simple process, but it is a worthwhile endeavor for those desiring to become a parent and with the dedication to provide a child with a safe and loving home.

Identify a Child for Adoption

Many adoptions occur within a family. When birth parents are unable to provide adequate care for a child, they often seek the assistance of family (the child’s grandparents, aunts or uncles etc.). These adoptions allow a child to stay within the same family nucleus and, if desired, maintain some level of relationship with the birth parents.

Other adoptions occur when a child has no family to provide care for them. Children in these circumstances are often adopted through foster care, or by acquaintances of the birth parents who stepped up for the child when the child was in need of care. Or, children can be placed for adoption through adoption agencies. Agencies often locate children for adoption locally, throughout the country and around the world. If the adoption is an international adoption, the adoption can include additional steps, including an adoption in the country of origin and another adoption proceeding here in the United States. The fees charged by adoption agencies can be high, but many offer financing arrangements to secure

Consent to Adoption

Once a child is identified, you must first determine whether the parents’ rights can be terminated. It must be recognized that the birth parents have the right to a meaningful relationship with their child, and the proposed adoption will terminate the otherwise existing fundamental rights that birth parents possess. Therefore, adoption starts when the birth parents relinquish their rights to the child. This most often occurs through a written consent to adoption. Florida statutes set strict guidelines on what must be contained in the consent for it to be valid and enforceable, so careful attention should be paid to the form of this document.

Parental consent can also occur implicitly through the birth parents’ conduct if they have failed to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child. On occasion, for example, a child is simply abandoned. If the parent fails to maintain contact with the child, offer support for the child or otherwise protect their legal relationship with the child, they have implied their consent through their conduct.

If the written consents have not been signed and the birth parents have maintained their relationship with the child, then the child is not available for adoption. If written consents has been signed, or if the birth parents have abandoned the child, you may be able to adopt the child assuming the other conditions for a legal adoption of the child exist.
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Home Study

An adoption home study can be required in some, but not all, adoption cases. In general, the adoption home study will be required if the child is unrelated to the individual or individuals who are seeking to adopt the child. If the child is closely related to the individuals who are petitioning for adoption, then an adoption home study is typically not required.

Adoption home studies are conducted by Licensed Care Social Workers. The social worker will visit your home to evaluate the home, and also investigate the individuals who reside in the home, including and especially those petitioning to adopt a child. The home study will include a criminal background check and a check of records maintained by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The social worker will obtain personal references and contact outside resources for additional information. The goal of these efforts, of course, is to ascertain whether or not the individuals seeking to adopt will be able to provide a safe and stable home for the child. A variety of documents for the social worker to review to determine your eligibility to obtain a Final Judgment of Adoption, such as your birth certificates, personal character references, marriage licenses, and other documentation as required. You should expect one or several meetings with the social worker to take place at your home, before and after the child begins to live in the home.

Drafting the Petitions

Your attorney will draft a package of documents that set the stage for the adoption to be granted. Two petitions are at the core of these documents: the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and the Petition for Adoption. Various supporting documentation is filed with the petitions as well, and you will need to file the child’s birth certificate with the petitions. If the child is related to the individuals seeking to adopt, both petitions can be filed at the same time. If the child is unrelated to the petitioners, the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights must be filed and resolved first, and the Petition for Adoption can be filed if the parents rights are in fact terminated.

The Petition for Termination of Parental Rights sets for the legal basis to extinguish any claim the birth parents have to the child. Notably, a termination of parental rights also extinguishes any obligation the parents have to pay child support, if granted. This petition should assert that the petitioners are filing the petition in the proper jurisdiction, that the petition is being filed for the purposes of adoption, that the parents rights are subject to termination (due to written or implied consent), and that the petitioners offer an appropriate adoption placement for the child. If granted at a court hearing, the birth parents will no longer be able to claim any right to custody, visitation or parental decision-making authority.

The Petition for Adoption focuses on establishing new parental relationships between the child and the individuals seeking to adopt the child. If granted, the petitioners will become the child’s legal parents, with all rights to the child, including custody and decision-making authority.

Filing the Petitions

Once you’ve signed the petitions, they will be filed with the Circuit Court. The petitions should be filed in the county of residence for the petitioners. If the child is unrelated to the petitioners, then the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights will be set for a hearing. If the child is related, then both petitions will be set for a hearing. The timing of this hearing can depend on a few factors, including the backlog of the court’s docket and whether or not the birth parents have executed written consents to the adoption.

If the birth parents have not executed a written consent to the adoption, then the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights must be served upon the birth parents. If their location is known, they should be personally served with the petition through a process server. If they cannot be found, then you can effect service by publishing the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights through a local periodical.

The Termination of Parental Rights Court Hearing

The hearing on the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights is to judicially determine whether or not the parents’ rights should in fact be terminated. Specifically, the court will examined the evidence and hear testimony to determine whether or not the birth parents have signed written consents to the adoption, and if not, whether each person whose consent to adoption is required:

- Has executed an affidavit of nonpaternity and the affidavit was obtained according to the requirements of Florida law;
- Has been served with a notice of the intended adoption plan and has failed to respond within the designated time period;
- Has been properly served notice of the proceeding in accordance with the requirements of Florida law and has failed to file a written answer or personally appear at the hearing;
- Has abandoned the minor child;
- Has been judicially declared incapacitated with restoration of competency found to be medically improbable;
- Has been properly served notice of the proceeding in accordance with the requirements of Florida law, but has been found by the court, after examining written reasons for the withholding of consent, to be unreasonably withholding his or her consent; or

If one or more of these conditions are met, the birth parents’ rights may be terminated by the court and the case may proceed to a hearing on the Petition for Adoption.

The Adoption Hearing

Adoption hearings are very often a joyous, celebratory event. Some basic testimony is taken from the individual(s) seeking to adopt the child and, if everything is in order, the adoption is granted. It is very common for adopting parents to have their picture taken with the judge or engage in other action to memorialize this significant event in their lives, and the lives of the child who is being adopted.

The Final Judgement of Adoption

The judge will sign a Final Judgment of Adoption and file the judgment with the Clerk of Court. This document formally establishes the new parental relationship between the adopting parents and the child.

Obtain a New Birth Certificate

Once the Final Judgment of Adoption has been entered, you will need to obtain a new birth certificate reflecting your legal status as the child’s parent. In Florida, new birth certificates are obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. A small fee will be charged by the bureau to issue the new birth certificate.

Happily Ever-After

The best part is when you get to take your child home and start forming a family together. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth while is.

Have Questions About The Legal Ramifications Of Adoption?

Q.

Who Can Adopt a Child Florida? ↓

Single or married adults may adopt a child in Florida. As a married person, you can either adopt as a joint adoption or you can individually adopt the child without your spouse.

Q.

Who Can Be Adopted In Florida? ↓

IAnyone can be adopted in Florida, however children who are aged 12 and over must give their consent to the adoption unless the court determines they will waive the child’s consent in their best interests.

Q.

Can I Reimburse the Child’s Biological Parents for Expenses Incurred in the Adoption? ↓

You can reimburse the biological parents for such expenses. In fact, many people who adopt do so to facilitate the adoption. Many adoption agencies attempt to reach compensation agreements between the birth parents and would-be adoptive parents. An affidavit will be required to verify what fees and expenses were paid by the adopting parents..

Q.

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Child In Florida? ↓

The overall costs of an adoption can vary widely, depending on whether the parents are willing to consent to the adoption and other factors. However, a tax refund may be available to offset your costs in the adoption. In 2019, the total tax credit is $14,080 for qualifying taxpayers. Simply put, you could receive $14,080 as a dollar-for-dollar offset of your costs incurred in the adoption. Income limits apply and you should also consult with a tax professional to determine whether you are eligible for the adoption tax credit..

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