Improving the adoption law
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
Christopher Vietri's five-year battle to win custody of his biological son "Baby Sam" may be back to square one, but proposed adoption-law changes to prevent similar tugs-of-war in the future appear headed for passage. The state House -- the sticking point in previous years -- overwhelmingly approved the long-fought adoption bill last week, and its approval is all but assured in the Senate.
That's good news for Florida. Though the bill is not perfect, it would provide extra protection for all parties at the front end of private adoptions, thereby reducing the risk that they will be contested -- and lives and hearts torn apart -- years down the line.
The bill, sponsored by Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, in the Senate and Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, in the House, would give birth mothers a two-day "waiting period" before providing consent and spell out more specific steps adoption agencies must take to obtain the birth father's permission. Private adoption attorneys -- whose fees would be reined in by the bill -- argue that it guarantees uncertainty, but just the opposite is more likely true. The bill's common-sense protections would reduce the likelihood that a birth mother would later change her mind or claim duress -- or that a birth father, kept in the dark early on by his partner or a complicit agency, would arrive on the scene years later to claim his child.
We have all seen the misery such a late arrival can produce. New Port Richey's Vietri, never notified by the adoption agency, came forward promptly after finding out that his son was indeed alive, contrary to the birth mother's assurance. But by then the baby was 3 months old and already living in Alabama with his prospective adoptive parents. Nearly five years and many twists and turns later -- including an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in Vietri's favor and mediation that recently failed -- custody is still in dispute.
The adoption bill is voluminous, and the attorneys who oppose it are right that certain provisions, including one that appears to grant a far too open-ended revocation right, should be ironed out.
Adoptions are critical to Florida's children, and lawmakers should take care not to make them more cumbersome than necessary. But the overall bill moves the state in the direction it needs to go.
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