Having a child in your life may be one of your great joys, even if the child is not yours biologically. In fact, you likely have a special place in your heart for the grandchild or stepchild who is in your care when circumstances beyond your control have separated the child from his or her parent.
Nevertheless, you daily live with the understanding that you have no legal say in the child’s well-being. You may be an integral part of the child’s life from morning until night, but a medical emergency, educational issue or other legal complication may leave you with no authority to act on behalf of the child. If adopting the child is the solution you desire, you must first see to the difficult task of terminating the rights of the biological parent.
Proving a parent is unfit
Florida family courts do not take lightly the termination of parental rights. In fact, the preservation of family bonds is a high priority, and many judges agree that the best interests of a child are to maintain that bond as long as there is potential for the situation to resolve.
If the parent agrees that the child would be better off under your permanent and legal care, that parent may willingly surrender rights to the child. However, this is seldom the case, and many courts must consider other factors in making the difficult decision, such as:
- Has the parent refused to make efforts to communicate and bond with the child?
- Does the parent have a history of abandoning the child?
- Is the parent delinquent in support payments?
- Is the child unsafe in the presence of the parent?
- Is the parent unable to provide for the child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, education and a stable environment?
With the growing opioid epidemic in Florida and other states, more grandparents and stepparents are facing the bittersweet challenge of seeking involuntary termination of the rights of parents who are caught up in addiction. If this is your situation, the court will likely consider any attempts the parent has made to stay sober through counseling and treatment and may require further efforts before terminating parental rights.
Because the loss of parental rights is permanent, you should expect the process to be challenging. Seeking the best interests of the child is the aim of the court. Your cause may have a better chance of success with the help of an experienced attorney who can guide you through the termination hearings and prepare you for the adoption process.