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Adopting A Stepchild In Florida


Adoption is a beautiful beginning for all parties involved. While it might not seem obvious, adoption can be complicated, taking years in some cases. Sometimes a couple is seeking a child and will use all resources available, including public and private agencies. The cost of adoption ranges depending on services utilized. Sometimes a grandparent might adopt a child if the parents are no longer living, or a child’s legal guardian decides to formally adopt the child as their own. In addition, sometimes stepparents decide that they want to legally adopt a stepchild, but aren’t sure how. Technically speaking, a child can only have two legal parents, but it is possible for a stepparent to pursue adoption. 

Requirements for Adopting a Stepchild 

A stepparent must be at least 18 years old to apply for legal adoption of their stepchild.  The stepparent must file a petition for adoption along with their married spouse (the child’s biological parent). The petition should contain provisions explaining why the adoption is important to the stepparent and the child, and the existing relationship between the parent and the child. Time is allotted to allow the other parent to object to the adoption process. Children over 12 must also submit consent to the adoption.  If the other parent doesn’t respond, or chooses to relinquish their parental rights, the adoption can be approved. Once an adoption is final, the judge will sign a court order called the Final Judgment of Stepparent Adoption. This allows the stepparent to obtain a new birth certificate for their adopted child reflecting their new parentage. It also allows the stepparent and their spouse to file taxes as married filing jointly, and claim the child as a dependent. 

Potential Challenges

In Florida, a child can only have two legal guardians. Although blended families may have stepparents and stepsiblings on both their mom and dad’s side of the family, a stepparent does not become a legal parent to their stepchild after marriage to the child’s parent. In addition, a stepparent does not share a legal obligation to provide for the child, even if the child lives in the marital home. Obtaining health insurance and claiming a stepchild as a dependent are other items the stepparent cannot due unless a legal adoption is approved. If the child’s other biological parent chooses to legally relinquish their parental rights, the stepparent can assume parental custody. Once a biological parent gives up their rights, they are no longer legally or financially responsible for their biological child, and rights cannot be reversed.

 If the biological parent refuses to relinquish their parental rights, the court will presumptively side with the biological parent, as it is their natural right to retain custody of their child, even if the other parent has primary physical custody. However, if the stepparent can make a showing that the other biological parent is unfit due abandonment of the child, prior conviction for violent crimes, child abuse, or a serious drug problem (or otherwise incompetent), it is possible the court will find in the stepparent’s favor and award the stepparent custody. Ultimately the court will make a decision in the child’s best interest.

Call Attorney William Wallshein Today

Stepparents that marry a new spouse with children often form an inseparable bond and loving relationship with their stepchildren. Adoption is one method to symbolize this parental love and ensure the child is well cared for into adulthood. While a child can have two stepparents and two biological parents, they can only have two legal guardians. So if you are considering adoption of your stepchild, discuss it with your child and your partner first, then consider if the child’s other biological parent is willing to consent to relinquishment of their parental rights. It is not always possible, but worth pursuing if it is integral to you.  If you have questions about the adoption process or have another family law need, contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein. He would be honored to assist you in the journey to adoption.



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