Frequently we receive calls at Florida Family Adoptions where the pro se party has “heard” or has been “told” something about Florida adoptions that isn’t accurate. I have compiled a list of the most common myths and realities, and I hope this will help others who are contemplating filing a pro se grandparent, relative, step-parent or adult adoption in the Florida Courts.
MYTH: You cannot file a pro se adoption in Florida unless you have the consent of both birth parents.
REALITY: While having the consent to adoption of both birth parents is ideal, most family adoption cases filed in Florida have the consent of only one parent, and sometimes there are no adoption consents signed by the birth parents at all. It is not true that you must have birth parents consents in order to file, however, be aware that you will have to complete various other steps to ensure that proper notice is given to the birth parents. In cases where both parents are unlocatable, the Court is empowered to consent to the adoption in their place, if necessary.
MYTH: You can use step-parent adoption forms for a relative adoption. There is really no difference between the two.
REALITY: This is a BIG MISTAKE that is made by many pro se parties in Florida and a myth that frustrates me greatly. I have lost count of the phone calls I have received at Florida Family Adoptions from grandparents and relatives hoping to adopt that filed step-parent adoption forms for a relative adoption and have: a) appeared before the Judge and had their cases dismissed for improper and legally insufficient adoption documents; b) are stuck in the court system for a year or more trying to get their case finalized. To add insult to injury, no one will them what is wrong with the documents they filed.
Anyone who tells you to use step-parent adoption forms for a relative or grandparent adoption is giving you faulty information. There are very specific allegations that have to be made in the pro se relative adoption petition that are NOT included in a pro se step parent adoption petition. We hear accounts from time-to-time that some parties have managed to get their relative adoptions granted on step-parent adoption forms. Please understand that this reflects your Court’s unfamiliarity with the law rather than a situation where using step- parent adoption forms was the proper way to file your pro se relative adoption.
This is me every time I hear that a pro se party trying to file a Florida Relative Adoption is told by a Clerk of Court or someone else to use Step Parent adoption forms and just “cross out” the step parent part and write in “relative”.
MYTH: There is no father.
REALITY: There is a father. I assure you.
MYTH: A birth father is “out of the picture” if his name is not on the birth certificate and/or has long ago abandoned the child(ren) to be adopted.
REALITY: I hear this one a lot. The reality is that just because his name is not on the birth certificate or he is long gone, it doesn’t mean that you can simply ignore him during the adoption process. If you know who the birth father is, he must be identified, and you must attempt to locate him and give him proper notice of the adoption process.
If the identity of the birth father is unknown, certain additional adoption forms must be included with your pro se relative or step parent adoption filing.
MYTH: A termination of parental rights process must be completed before a pro se party can file a petition for adoption.
REALITY: This one baffles me, because it is clearly written in Florida law that step-parent, relative, and adult adoptions can be filed by pro se parties in one step. Florida Statute § 63.087(3) specifically states: “Adoptions of relatives, adult adoption, or adoptions of step children are not required to file a separate termination of parent rights proceeding pending adoption. In such cases, the petitioner may file a joint petition for termination of parental rights and adoption, attaching all required consents, affidavits, notice and acknowledgements.”
MYTH: The birth mother has one year to change her mind.
REALITY: There is some confusion regarding the revocation rights of the birth parent and what is called the “statute of repose”. Under Florida Statute § 63.082, if the birth parent signs a consent to adoption for a child who is six (6) months of age or younger, the consent is valid and irrevocable upon signing. If, however, the child to be adopted is older than six (6) months of age at the time the birth parent(s) sign the consent(s), it is still valid upon signing, but it is subject to a revocation period of three (3) business days. In Florida, consents for adoption can only be revoked if the birth parent(s) can prove in a court of law that the consent for adoption was signed under fraud or duress. The “one year” or Statute or Repose that people refer to is found under Florida Statute § 63.182, which states: ”…an action or proceeding of any kind to vacate, set aside, or otherwise nullify a judgment of adoption may not be filed more than 1 year after entry of the judgement terminating parental rights.” This is different from the birth parent’s right to revoke a consent. In the case of Florida pro se step-parent, grandparent, or relative adoptions, the date of the termination of parental rights is usually the same date as the entry of the final judgment of adoption.
MYTH: The birth mother or birth father signed a notarized paper terminating his or her parental rights.
REALITY: In Florida, a “notarized paper” cannot terminate parental rights. Only a Judge can do that. You’d be surprised how many people call looking for that non-existent, magical form. Sometimes a termination of parental rights can occur as part of a DCF case (Chapter 39) when the birth parent(s) fail to complete a case plan, and it is in the child’s best interests to take steps towards adoption. For many pro se parties, they are seeking to adopt their step child, grandchild, or relative through the private adoption process afforded by Chapter 63 of Florida law.
Of course, the process for adopting a non-relative is completely different. It not only requires a licensed adoption agency or attorney (an adoption entity), but the adoption must be filed using the two-step process (termination of parental rights and then adoption). Pro se parties filing a relative or step-parent adoption file their termination of parental rights and adoption in one step (as discussed above). In either case, however, the Judge enters an Order terminating parental rights. If you have a “notarized paper”, you will still need to address the birth parent(s) and termination of their rights when you file your Florida pro se relative, grandparent, or step-parent adoption.
MYTH: It takes a long time to adopt and it’s very expensive.
REALITY: Over the years since Florida Family Adoptions was created, I have received dozens of calls from families that have consulted with attorneys who tell them that it will take a lot of time and money to make a family adoption a reality. I can only surmise that some of these attorneys may not have the level of experience required to process a Chapter 63 step-parent or relative adoption. I have been fortunate to know many highly qualified, board-certified and well-seasoned adoption attorneys in our great State of Florida, however, even with considerations, their fees may be out of the reach of the average grandparents and families who live on a limited income. The bottom line is that it is not expensive to adopt if you connect with the proper resources to help you. As for the time it takes, well, that is a function of the Florida courts, and some counties are better than others. In any case, your adoption should be resolved in months – sometimes in about 60-90 days in the “good” counties and in other situations three to six months. There are many factors that can affect the timeline, i.e.
- A larger county has many more cases and the court dockets are full;
- You may have to deal with a the court’s pro se coordinator who has little or no knowledge of how Chapter 63 private adoptions are processed;
- The pro se coordinator may be overburdened; or
- The Judge could have restrictive time slots for hearings, etc.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is here is that your relative and step-parent adoption goals are achievable within a reasonable time and at an affordable price that won’t break the bank. I have made it my mission to prepare documents for pro se families that will pass muster with the Courts. Nothing brings me more pleasure than getting that phone call on finalization day, telling me that it all “went perfect”. That, my friends, is the sweetness at the bottom of the pie.
Please feel free to use the comments section below ask questions or make comments on the blogs. I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can without providing legal advice.
Thanks for reading!