Proposed Changes to Adoption Process

One of the happier aspects of family law is the adoption process for prospective parents. Adoption is an event that typically evokes a joyous response once all the paperwork is submitted and final approval is received. However, the less positive aspect of this process is the termination of the parental rights of the biological parents. The termination of parental rights can occur through court order or voluntary consent. A recent report in the online newspaper discusses a proposed change to the adoption law that would permit courts to put the best interests of the child ahead of the wishes of the biological parents. This change is intended to fix a conflict in the law concerning children in the dependency system that are subsequently put up for adoption. The conflict arises when adoptive agencies intervene in adoption cases where the biological parents’ rights have not been terminated and request the child be placed with whomever the biological parents prefer, which could be motivated by sentiments that do not put the interests of the child first. Both the Florida House and Senate are currently considering a bill on this issue.

Current Law

In cases where the biological parents sign written consent forms that permit adoption agencies or qualified adoptive parents to adopt a child in the dependency system, the consent is considered “valid, binding and enforceable” by a judge. However, at any time before the biological parents’ rights are terminated, the adoptive agency can intervene provided it files with the court a home study or other evidence that the prospective adoptive parents are an appropriate placement for the child. The adoptive agencies then have the ability to request a different placement for the child at the hearing before the judge after claiming the new prospective parents would be more suitable.

Proposed Changes

The Senate version of the new law removes the requirement that in order for the biological parents’ consent for adoption to be valid it must occur before parental rights are terminated. Further, when the adoptive agency does intervene, the court’s decision about which placement is most appropriate for the child would be governed under the best interest of child standard used when transferring custody in dependency cases. In addition, the bill new relieves courts from the requirement that they consider the rights of the parents when deciding the suitability of the placement selected by the parents.

The House version of this bill is more expansive than its Senate counterpart and includes an entirely new law entitled the “Child’s Best Hope Act.” Consents for adoption of children less than six months old would be valid upon execution. Additionally, consents executed for older children already in the dependency system would constitute permanent relinquishment of all parent rights, and a parent would only have three business days to revoke it. When an adoptive agency chooses to intervene, the court would need to hold a final hearing within 30 days of the request and issue a decision within 15 days following the hearing. The bill also creates a presumption in favor of placements endorsed by the biological parents if the child has resided in the current placement for six months or less and a presumption against placements selected by the parents when the child has been in the current placement for nine months or longer. The adoptive agency and the biological parents would have the burden of proving why the change in placement is best for the child.

Speak with an Attorney

Any party involved in the adoption process, whether you are the prospective parent or the biological parent, should seek legal advice to make sure you are not relinquishing rights or benefits unnecessarily. Stok Kon + Braverman, represents clients in a variety of family law matters in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.