Florida Pro Se Family Adoptions and Unlocated Birth Parents

But I don’t know where they are! – When birth parents can’t be located.

One of the most common scenarios we encounter at Florida Family Adoptions is when we get a call from a relative (mostly grandparents) wishing to adopt their grandchildren, but they don’t know where the biological parents are.  Unlocated parents can present challenges to Florida pro se litigants wanting to adopt their relatives, but they are not insurmountable.

I haven’t seen the parents for a long time.  How can I adopt when I don’t know where they are?

There are clear procedural steps you must take when filing your pro se Florida step-parent or relative adoption and the location of the biological parent(s) is not known.  You must show the court that you have, in good faith, exhausted all avenues to try to find the parent(s) so that they can receive notice of the adoption (service of process).  This is most commonly called a “diligent search”, and it can be tedious and time-consuming to do correctly without the proper resources.

Types of Service of Process Permitted in Adoption

Specifically, within the context of Florida Step-Parent or Relative Adoptions, notice to the biological parents can be given in two ways:

Personal Service of Process

Florida Statute states that service of process to a parent whose rights are being terminated pending an adoption must be “personally served”.[1]  In Florida, personal service of process is defined as a “process delivered by hand directly to the person against whom the process is issued.”[2]  Because the parental rights of one, or both parents, are being terminated, the only acceptable method of service is direct personal service.  Substitute service is not permitted.

Constructive Service (Publication)

This type of service is approved by the court when any person whose consent to the step-parent or relative adoption cannot be located, and a diligent search fails to locate them.[3]  Under these circumstances, the parent(s) may be served by publication.  Publication entails a notice published in a periodical (newspaper) of general circulation, once a week for four (4) consecutive weeks.[4]  The newspaper must provide you with proof of publication in the form of an affidavit.  This affidavit is filed with the Court where your family adoption is pending.

I completed my diligent search, but I’ve been unable to locate the biological parent(s).  The Court is allowing a publication. Where is the notice published?

This is a great question, because there is a great deal of misinformation out there regarding the issue of where the “Notice of Action” is published.  Generally, in Florida court cases, the place of publication is governed by Florida Statute Chapter 49.  This chapter specifically states which types of cases allow constructive service, and adoption is included in Florida Statute §49.011(10).

Contrary to popular belief, the notice to be published (the Notice of Action) in a Florida relative or stepparent adoption case is NOT published in the county where the proceeding is pending OR where the petitioners (you, the pro se party) resides.  To do so would be incorrect.

In accordance with the provisions of Florida Statute §63.088(6), a Notice of Action being published in connection with an adoption MUST “…be published IN THE COUNTY WHERE THE PERSON WAS LAST KNOWN TO HAVE RESIDED…” [emphasis mine].

In addition, the Florida Family Rules of Procedure, Rule 12.070 states:

“(1)     For constructive service of process on the legal father in any case or proceeding to establish paternity which would result in termination of the legal father’s parental rights, the petitioner must file an affidavit of diligent search and inquiry that conforms with Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.913(c). If the legal father cannot be located, he must be served with process by publication in the manner provided by chapter 49, Florida Statutes. The notice must be published in the county where the legal father was last known to have resided. The clerk of the circuit court must mail a copy of the notice to the legal father at his last known address.” [emphasis mine]

If you publish elsewhere because the Clerk of the Court or anyone else told you to, you run the risk of wasting your money AND having the Court deny your petition due to a faulty constructive service.

I receive many phone calls from customers who tell me that the Deputy Clerk wants them to publish locally.  In some instances, the Clerk actually gives the petitioner a business card for the local newspaper!

In one recent case, the unfortunate customers followed the Clerk’s instructions, but were unable to finalize their adoption when the Judge refused to accept the local publication as proper notice.  They had to start over with the publication, which they could barely afford, not to mention the aggravation of having to wait for the new Notice of Action to be issued by the Court.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of incorrect information being passed around – it’s a peril that all Florida pro se litigants must be aware of.  Surprisingly, (but not so surprisingly to me) many Clerks of Court, pro se coordinators, and even Judges do not have a lot of experience with Florida private step-parent and relative adoptions.   On the other hand, there are circuit courts that are exceptional.

Can you help us navigate through this procedural maze?

Yes.  Florida Family Adoptions was founded for the sole purpose of providing self-represented (pro se) families with clerical and procedural assistance with their relative or stepparent adoption without breaking the bank.  If you’d like to discuss your project, please call or use the contact form below.  We’d be delighted to talk with you.

In Conclusion.

If you are a pro se litigant filing your own step-parent or relative adoption in the Florida courts, keep in mind that regardless of what you have been told or have heard, even from court personnel, the provisions of Florida Statute Chapter 63 is the ultimate authority regarding constructive service of process on an unlocated birth parent. So now you know.

Blessings and blessings.

[1] Florida Statute §63.088(3) – Notice and Service; Diligent Search

[2] US Legal, Inc., Legal Dictionary – www.uslegal.com

[3] Florida Statute §63.088(6) – Notice and Service; Diligent Search

[4] Florida Statute §49.10(1)(a)