Step-parent Adoption and Child Abandonment

by Ashley from Hillsborough County, Florida

Our case was a mess, but since the dust has settled, I intend to adopt my step-daughter so that I no longer have limitations with handling her school and medical issues.

When she was about a year old, her father and mother allowed temporary custody to her paternal grandmother. Three years ago, she was removed from her care and we were awarded custody after a drawn-out court process, where her biological mother gave no resistance and was in no position to care for her.

During the court proceedings, the mother attended 2 state-supervised visits and stated on a recorded call with the judge, that she wanted to sign over her parental rights. She has not made any effort to do so in 2 1/2 years.

We were later awarded child support for my step-daughter and her mother made 4 or 5 weekly payments, which stopped abruptly, 2 months ago. She has not had any phone or in-person contact with my step-daughter since our custody hearings 2+ years ago, nor has she made any efforts to arrange anything. We do not have a valid means of contact for her - phone, address, social media.

Would the lack of contact fall within grounds of abandonment or do the few child support payments she made recently, negate the ability to move forward with that notion?

Answer to Stepparent Adoption Question

Dear Ashley,

Given the past history and the recent circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that a joint petition for adoption would be granted.

However, this can be very tricky if you are unable to locate the mother and would have to serve her by constructive service.

As for child abandonment, Chapter 39 of the FLorida Statutes states in part:
(1) “Abandoned” or “abandonment” means a situation in which the parent or
legal custodian of a child or, in the absence of a parent or legal custodian, the caregiver, while being able, makes no provision for the child’s support and has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child. For purposes of this subsection, “establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship” includes, but is not limited to, frequent and regular contact with the child through frequent and regular visitation or frequent and regular communication to or with the child, and the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities. Marginal efforts and incidental or token visits or communications are not sufficient to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with a child. The term does not include a surrendered newborn infant as described in s. 383.50, a “child in need of services” as defined in chapter 984, or a “family in need of services” as defined in chapter 984. The incarceration of a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver responsible for a child’s welfare may support a finding of abandonment.

Your specific question regarding child abandonment requires legal advice from a family law attorney. We recommend the referral service below.

You may also be interested in reading our question and answer page titled Child Abandonment in Florida. Also see our Stepparent Adoption Forms page.

Notice: We provide these answers to the general public and our website visitors as a means to further their online legal research. These answers are merely suggestions and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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