The Rights of Birth Parents in Adoptions
Bringing home a new baby is one of the happiest moments in a parent’s life. The sense of joy, hopes for the future, and musings on possibilities for the child form a moment in time that is forever etched in the parents’ minds. These emotions are especially present for parents who use adoption to add to their family. Often, adoptive parents wait years for placement with a child, which makes the moment when the child becomes legally theirs all the more meaningful. While much of the emphasis is placed on the adoptive parents in this process, the role and legal rights of birth parents must be kept in mind. American law places great emphasis on the rights of biological parents, and sets a number of legal requirements that must be met before a court will finalize an adoption. These rights remain in place until the child reaches the age of 18, and becomes an adult.
Typically, people connect adoption with an image of a baby or young child, but anyone is adoptable, including adults. A recent news story in the Tampa Bay Times discusses the rare case of an 18-year-old who spent his entire childhood in foster care finally finding an adoptive family just as he aged out of the foster system. In addition to adult adoption, Florida also has step-parent adoptions, close-relative adoption, and entity adoption, which involves the use of an agency to facilitate the process. Adoptive parents need to understand the legal claims birth parents hold during pending adoptions to make progressing through the legal procedures easier.
Termination of Parental Rights
The adoption process essentially transfers all the legal rights of the birth parents to a new family. This transfer is permanent, and the birth family must sever ties with the child while the new family assumes the responsibilities of caring and raising the child until he/she reaches 18. Because of these serious legal consequences, the procedure for terminating a parent’s rights is fairly involved.
Termination happens through consent of the birth parents or a court order cutting off parental rights. A court will terminate parental rights if there is evidence that a parent abandoned, abused, neglected, or failed to protect his/her child. Otherwise, both parents must consent to the adoption. However, unmarried biological fathers must register a paternity claim before their rights are terminated or within 30 days of receiving notice of an adoption petition. Otherwise, consent is waived, and the adoption can proceed. The biological mother cannot consent until 48 hours after the child is born or is discharged from the hospital. Consent for child over six months old may be provided at any time, and the birth parents have three business days to revoke it. Once this revocation period has passed, a court will only rescind consent if there is evidence of duress or fraud.
Finalizing the Adoption
Many adoptions are facilitated through an adoption agency or attorney intermediary that help the prospective parents obtain necessary home studies, birth parent consent, and education about the adoption process. These third party facilitators also assist with post-placement home studies and mandatory visits for next 90 days to ensure the parents are supporting child’s best interests and parent/child bonding is occurring. To finalize the adoption, a petition must be filed with the court within 60 days of the termination of the birth parent’s parental rights, and a hearing scheduled between the adoptive parents and the judge. Note that this hearing will not be scheduled until the final home study and the 90 day post-placement period passes. Assuming the reports on the final home study and subsequent contact are favorable, the judge will sign off on the adoption, and the child now legally belongs to the new parents.
Talk to a Florida Adoption Attorney
The end result of the adoption process makes the effort more than worthwhile, but having an experienced adoption attorney on your side can help the process move faster and experience less obstacles. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. has years of experience handling these cases, and can guide you through the legal options. Contact the office for a free consultation.