If you reside in Florida or a neighboring state and are considering adoption as a means to grow your family, you may be wondering if there is anything unique or anything specific you should know about adopting a child in Florida before you start the process. Adoption laws and requirements vary from state to state. Let’s take a look at what the requirements and laws surrounding adopting a child in FL entail.
In Florida, a state resident who meets any of the following adoption qualifications may adopt:
- A parent who is adopting a child who was subject to a consent proceeding
- A husband and wife
- A stepparent
- A person who has custody of a child that was placed by an adoption agency
- Single parents
- LGBTQ parents
These are the requirements you must satisfy in order to qualify for adopting a child in FL. If you are researching Florida’s requirements for adopting a child because you have questions like, “How old do you have to be to adopt?” or “Do you have to be married to adopt?” know that Florida has no stipulations for either. There is no age nor marriage requirement. Same-sex couples are also able to adopt, so if you’re an LGBTQ couple in Florida, adoption could be a great way for you to grow your family. Additionally, the laws regarding adopting a child in FL specify that a person may not be prohibited from adopting solely because of a physical disability unless it is determined that the disability renders the person incapable of being an effective parent. These requirements are very similar to requirements in most states.
In addition, all families seeking to adopt, either through a private agency, an attorney, or foster care must complete a home study. In Florida, during the home study, all members of the household will be interviewed, including children. The home study is an area that many new prospective adoptive parents have a great deal of anxiety about. They worry that having a home that looks like anything other than the picture of perfection is going to disqualify them from adopting, but this isn’t the case at all. The home study’s purpose is to make sure your home is safe for any child that might reside there and also help the social worker get to know you and your family better. The social worker is on your side and is an ally in this process. She or he is not looking to disqualify people for having a little bit of dust on their mantle. In fact, he or she can be a great source of support throughout the process by working with your family to help you with questions. Generally, you will have a social worker who completes the home study and your post-placement visits if you are adopting a child in FL. So, it’s important to cultivate that relationship—you’ll be spending a fair amount of time together!
Another important relationship to cultivate is with your adoption professional, whether that be an agency or an attorney. Finding the right adoption professional to work with can increase your chances of having a positive adoption experience, and choosing the wrong professional can make what should be a joyous process into a headache. Here are five important steps to help you choose the right one.
Do your research. A good place to start looking at your options is online, but be discerning about what information you take as truth. An adoption professional’s website should give you all the information you need about who they are, what services they provide, and how to contact them. When you contact them, evaluate them as you would any other professional you plan to pay for: Did they answer the phone? Did they call you back right away? Were they friendly? Did they offer you more information right away? If they can’t return your phone call in a timely manner, you might not want to get involved as you’d possibly be looking at a repeated pattern of poor communication.
Prepare yourself for your adoption interviews. Some adoption professionals may ask personal questions about your education, your finances, career, health, lifestyle, personal history, and religion. You may not feel comfortable disclosing so much information, but remember it is part of the adoption process. The better you know yourself, and what your values are, the easier it will be to find the right adoption professional. For example, if you are not a Christian, there is no point in contacting agencies who only work with Christian families. You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not: whatever your unique family dynamic is, you will be able to find an adoption professional who understands your needs if you are forthright from the beginning. In a similar vein, just because you have friends or family who used a specific professional and had a good experience with them, that does not necessarily mean they are the right fit for your needs. Cousin Jim and his wife Sally, no matter how alike you think you may be, are a different family than yours. Think of these adoption agencies as auditioning for the role of your adoption provider. Do you want the one who is “mostly right” for the role? Or the one who nails it? This might mean using an agency you’ve not previously had any indirect experience with.
Ask questions and take notes. If you weren’t organized in school, now is the time to get organized. Have a folder, either physical or electronic, that is dedicated to your adoption paperwork and can hold any notes you take when you talk to an adoption professional. As a self-proclaimed giant nerd, this was an area of the adoption process where I felt very comfortable. I had a very organized binder solely for the home study with tabs for different paperwork. I also had an excel spreadsheet that I used to keep track of my notes of the agencies I was talking to, which made it very easy to have a visual of who I felt might be a good fit for us.
Being organized and taking good notes during your conversations will make it easier for you to evaluate and compare professionals to get the best match for you. Ask them about the basics: How much will it cost? When are the fees due? How long will it likely take to get matched? Do they have references—examples of adoptive parents in your circumstances who have had successful adoptions—to show you? These are all questions a reputable professional should be able to answer easily and provide you with further documentation to back up their claims. If they hesitate or seem reticent to answer any of your questions, this can be a sign that they are not the right professional for you.
When we adopted, one of the questions I asked agencies was if they could provide me a reference of a family who experienced a disruption before they had a successful placement. I wanted to know first-hand from someone who experienced it how supportive and helpful the agency would be in the unfortunate event that we were to experience a disruption, otherwise known as a “failed adoption.” Some agencies couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide me with this information—they only wanted to show the shiny success stories. The agency we ended up using not only was able to provide us with that reference, but the person I was speaking to knew immediately who would be the best family for me to contact. This helped me feel like they were honest, and that they developed good relationships with their clients since they had families who were willing to talk to me about their not so picture-perfect experience.
Beyond references from the agency, find positive proof. Start digging for reputable reviews of successful (or unsuccessful) adoptions, and other third-party validation regarding the adoption professional you’re considering working with. Do your due diligence, as they say. Join a local adoptive parent support group to find previous clients of the agencies you are looking into. If you are considering national agencies, there are national adoptive parent groups as well. Odds are, any agency will have a few people who weren’t happy with the service they provided, but if the feedback skews overwhelmingly one way or the other, that can help you make your decision. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints were created against the organization or company you are thinking of working with. Also, look for any news articles that might involve the agency—are they positive, or are they regarding adoptions where things went wrong?
Look for warning signs. Does what they’re offering sound too good to be true? Do they lack affiliations with other reputable organizations? Did they ask for all the fees to be paid up front? Did they refuse to provide you with an itemized list of fees and expenses, or otherwise lack transparency? Are they accredited/licensed? These are all red flags that this professional is not someone who you should be spending your time and money with. While adoption is a very personal and emotional process, remember that your interaction with your adoption professional is ultimately a business transaction: you are paying them to provide you a service. Try to keep your emotions removed from the process and evaluate agencies or lawyers with the same diligence you would use when selecting any other important service provider. Odds are, you will be spending a significant chunk of change with this provider and having to communicate with them. Many agencies even serve as intermediaries for communication with birthparents, meaning you’d have to interact with this agency with some regularity for the next 18 years. Once you are in the thick of it and fees have been paid, it can be very difficult to “switch horses midstream” so to speak. Do the work at the beginning, and you can be assured that you get it right the first time.
Once you have completed the home study, chosen and signed up with an agency or attorney, paid them any necessary fees, and completed their paperwork and requirements, you are able to be matched. If you are adopting an infant, you may be matched with an expectant mother prior to birth. If you are adopting through foster care, you will be matched with the child or children. Every state is different in regards to how the adoption process unfolds after you have been matched with a child or an expectant mother. The first law to consider is concerning the revocation period after signing the paperwork terminating parental rights. The revocation period differs from state to state, and it is about when the birth parents can legally change their mind about placing their child for adoption. In some states, there is no revocation period, and termination of parental rights, commonly referred to as TPR, is irrevocable.
In the State of Florida, TPR cannot occur until 48 hours after birth, and it is irrevocable. Once the child is placed, a Florida adoption worker, most likely the same social worker who completed your home study, will visit you at least three times before your adoption is finalized. Adopting a child in FL is a very similar process to many states, and the adoption laws in Florida are equally protective and fair for both adoptive parents and birth parents. The birth parents receive adequate time after birth to contemplate their decision. For adoptive parents, they have the security of knowing that once TPR is signed, it cannot be revoked. The home study and pre-adoption requirements are fairly consistent with other states. The adoption process ends in six months, which is in the adoptive parents best interest. Overall, Florida is an adoption-friendly state.