Adoption of a minor child by a relative caregiver can be an important tool for assuring the legal security of the child. Given the significant divorce rate, economic hardship, psychological instability, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse we see all around us, it is not surprising that there are many families in which children are being raised by relative caregivers – grandparents, aunts, uncles, an adult sibling or other more distant relatives. In a fair number of cases, the child’s parents have been unable, or in some cases unwilling, to adequately parent the child and have reached out to family for help or a family member has stepped in to assume custody and care of the child. Some parents are unable to provide financially for themselves much less their child; some are not emotionally ready or capable of providing for the physical, mental, and emotional needs of a child; some through admirable self-evaluation have concluded that they are not suited for the responsibilities of parenthood; and in some sad cases, parents have neglected or abused their children.
In many instances, the relative caregiver has been the sole caregiver for years, the child’s parents have been largely absent from the child’s life, and as a consequence the child has identified with the relative (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.) as his or her parent. In such cases, the relative has become the child’s de facto parent, paying for medical care, school, and recreational expenses, ferrying the child to and from sports practice, dance lessons, school plays, and other activities, and attending doctor visits and teacher conferences. In some cases, the relative caregiver is the only mother or father the child has ever known.
Although the caregiver may be doing all the “heavy lifting” of parenting a niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter, the relative caregiver does not have the same status vis a vis the child as a biological or legal parent of the child. Thus, although the relative is fulfilling all the responsibilities of parenthood, he or she is not afforded the rights of parenthood. This can complicate the ongoing care of the child and the relative’s ability to raise the child.
Adoption of the child by the relative caregiver establishes legally the parent-child relationship already existing between the child and the relative and affords all the legal protections of the parent-child relationship, including such things as child support, succession of property upon the parent’s death, and all other laws that affect parents and children. The legal process for adoption involves the termination of the legal and/or biological parental rights and the finalization of the relative’s adoption of the child. Through adoption, the child is the child of the grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other relative just as though born to him or her, and the adopting relative obligates himself or herself for such things as child support as well as all other parental responsibilities and liabilities with respect to the child and has full parental prerogatives and rights with respect to the child. If the relative caregiver is related to the child within the third degree of consanguinity (such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or adult sibling), Florida law provides for a unified legal process and does not require the adopting relative to have a home study.
If you have questions about how to do a relative adoption, or if you are interested in adopting your grandchild, niece, or nephew, or if you are a parent who wishes to have your child adopted by a family member, please contact Jeanne T. Tate, P.A. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 813.258.3355). Jeanne has focused her practice on adoption law for over 30 years and we have helped complete adoptions for thousands of families, including innumerable relative adoptions.