What Rights Do I Have as a Step-parent in a Florida Divorce?

A mother hugs her child when dropping him off at school

When assuming a new role as a step parent, you do not think of the possibility of losing the children you have grown to love as your own. However, if entering a divorce where step children are involved, the relationship can become strained and distant. After a divorce, it can be extremely difficult to maintain familial contact with the children who are not legally recognized as your own.

Under Florida law, step parents have no legal rights to a child. This includes rights such as parental visitation or any contact with the child. However, a system can be negotiated between the parents regarding continued contact with step children. This negotiation is merely a parental choice and has no foundation in law. Unfortunately, if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement and he or she refuses to allow contact - there are little to no options. Unless a step-parent has legally adopted their step child, virtually becoming their legal parent, you may have no rights. Contact your Orlando Child Custody Attorney to ensure that your rights to your step-children will be protected.

The only way to obtain legal rights as a step parent is to legally adopt a child. Florida Statute Chapter 63 governs the regulations of all adoptions in Florida. The first requirement of a step parent adoption is the legal marriage between yourself and a parent of the child. You and your spouse will then file with the court a petition for step parent adoption. The petition will contain the child’s birth date, place of birth, relationship between the step parent and child and reasons why you would like to adopt the child. You will then be required to notify the other parent of your intent to adopt through proper service. If the other parent consents, the court will order the adoption of the child and issue a new birth certificate for the child, naming you as a legal parent, and providing you with full parental rights to the child.

If the other parent contests the adoption, this process becomes much more difficult. However, there are still options that your Orlando Child Custody Attorney can utilize to seek an adoption without their consent. One path will include seeking to terminate the parental rights of the partner not willing to give consent. However, courts are very hesitant to take away a parent’s legal rights to a child. Florida provides strict protections over the family unit and, more particularly, the parent child relationship. However, if a parent is found by the court to have deserted or abandoned the child, has been declared incompetent, or there are circumstances that could be potentially dangerous or not in the child’s best interest, the court may order termination of parental rights. (63.064) This adjudication of termination is not an easy process and must be discussed with your Orlando Divorce Attorney, to determine if this is the proper recourse in your case. Once terminated, the adoption process may continue and the court may order the legal adoption of the child. After obtaining a legal adoption, you will obtain all legal rights to the child as if they were your own. This allows the court to establish a parenting plan, child custody agreement or child support order.

Working with an experienced Orlando Child Custody Attorney before a marriage breaks down is imperative if you desire to maintain a relationship with your step-children after a divorce. If you are involved in a divorce or child custody case that has you concerned over losing rights to children that you have raised, you need the assistance of an experienced Orlando Child Custody Attorney who can help to guide you in retaining contact or seeking custody of your step-children.

Speaking to an attorney at our office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 407-512-0887 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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