Areas of Practice

  • Adoption
  • Dependency
  • Guardianship
  • Guardianship Advocacy
  • Temporary Custody
  • Grandparent Visitation
  • Temporary Custody
  • Estate Planning for Children
  • Health Care Documents for Children
  • Apellate Law in Child Related Cases



Adoption is the legal and emotional process in which a child becomes a full and permanent member of a family other than their birth parents. Step-parent, relative and non-relative adoptions in Florida are governed by Florida Statutes, Chapter 63. The adoption process may require the termination of parental rights and a home study. Compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children may be necessary depending on the residence of the child and adoptive parents. The legal fees for adoptions depend on the situation of the child, biological parents and prospective adoptive parents. The fees are governed by Florida Statutes, Chapter 63.

Approximately 100 children in the dependency system in Northeast Florida are usually waiting to be adopted. Prospective parents may even choose to foster a child prior to adoption. Government subsidies encourage the adoption of children from the foster care system. These adoption subsidies serve to minimize the financial obstacles to adoption. Other types of assistance often are available to help with medical care or other services. The subsidies also include the payment of legal fees for adopting children that are declared dependent and awaiting adoption.


A child in Florida may be sheltered outside of the child’s home if their parent(s) allegedly neglected, abandoned or abused the child. Florida Statutes, Chapter 39 governs the dependency process in Florida. The child’s parents are typically given free legal representation. Issues in dependency law include custody of the child, paternity and visitation by grandparents. The parents are usually given a period of time to complete a case plan. The policy law in Florida is that time is of the essence for permanency of children in the dependency system. A permanency hearing must be held no later than 12 months after the date the child was removed from the home or within 30 days after a court determines that reasonable efforts to return a child to either parent are not required, whichever occurs first. The purpose of the permanency hearing is to determine when the child will achieve the permanency goal or whether modifying the current goal is in the best interest of the child. A permanency hearing must be held at least every 12 months for any child who continues to be supervised by the department or awaits adoption. Permanency goals for children include adoption, permanent guardianship and placement with a fit and willing relative. Although legal representation by the custodian of the sheltered child is not required in Court, it is usually helpful for the custodian to retain legal counsel to guide them through the dependency process.


Parents jointly are the natural guardians of their own children and of their adopted children, during minority. If one parent dies, the surviving parent remains the sole natural guardian even if he or she remarries. If the marriage between the parents is dissolved, the natural guardianship belongs to the parent to whom sole parental responsibility has been granted, or if the parents have been granted shared parental responsibility, both continue as natural guardians. If the marriage is dissolved and neither parent is given parental responsibility for the child, neither may act as natural guardian of the child. The mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless the court enters an order stating otherwise.

Guardianship of the Person entered by a court may be necessary to provide the necessary care for the child, if a parent is not able to care for the child. Upon petition of a parent, brother, sister, next of kin, or other person interested in the welfare of a minor, a guardian for a minor may be appointed by the court without the necessity of adjudication of incapacity. Guardianship of a minor in Florida is governed by Florida Statutes, Chapter 744. This process is usually considered when services are not needed by in the dependency area and the caregiver of the child is not a relative of the child, as defined in the temporary custody statute.

Natural guardians may be authorized to act on behalf of their child in monetary situations without Court authorization. However, if a child receives funds in excess of $15,000 in aggregate, Florida law requires that a Guardian of the Property be appointed by a court. This authorization is necessary even if the parents are caring for their child. In both Guardians of the Person or Guardians of the Property, representation of the guardian by an attorney is initially necessary in Court.


Florida law provides that a guardian advocate may be appointed for a person with developmental disabilities. Developmental disability is defined in Florida Statutes, Chapter 393 and includes a disorder or syndrome that is attributable to retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, or Prader‐Willi syndrome; that manifests before the age of 18; and constitutes a substantial handicap that can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely. Upon becoming an adult, the parent no longer has the legal ability to make decisions for them. Guardian Advocacy is a process for families, caregivers, and friends of individuals with a developmental disability to obtain a guardianship without an adjudication declaring the individual incompetent. The duties and responsibilities are the same for guardian advocates and guardians otherwise appointed pursuant to Florida Statutes, Chapter 744.


Parents of children often provide for their child’s care by placing them temporarily with another family member who is better able to care for them. Grandparents and other relatives may also request temporary custody of a child, without the parents(s) consent if they can demonstrate that the child has been abused, abandoned or neglected by the parents. An order of temporary custody provides a legal document that explains and defines the caregiver’s relationship to the child and authority to the care of the child. Florida Statute, Chapter 751 provides for either temporary or concurrent custody of the child. Legal services required for temporary custody of the child depend on whether the process is contested by the parent(s).


The perception of many in Florida is that grandparents do not have any “rights” in regard to their grandchildren. However, some statutory law in Florida does provide avenues for grandparents to have either notice of actions regarding their grandchild and/or visitation. While most grandparents have their grandchild’s best interest at heart, legal assistance may be helpful to assist in achieving what is best for the child, including custody or visitation with the child’s grandparent.


A major concern for a parent is not only providing for their child during the parent’s lifetime, but also making certain that their child is cared for throughout the child’s life. Florida law provides that a parent may nominate a guardian for a minor child in the event of incapacity or death. Proper preparation of the guardianship documents will best assist in caring out the parent’s wishes.

Proper estate planning is also helpful to parents so that the property they desire to provide their children with actually passes to the child as intended. An attorney with knowledge of wills and trusts can assist with the preparation of the proper documents which can provide for the child both during and after the lifetime of the parent.


Health care surrogate documents may be executed in Florida so that someone other than the parent can provide authority to act on behalf of the parent in the parent’s absence. This documentation is necessary at times and at the very least provides the parent with peace of mind during an extended absence form the child or while the child is traveling with a friend or relative.


Occasionally a person who is successful in their initial action is faced with an appeal to a higher court by another party. Likewise, a person who is initially unsuccessful may choose to appeal a judge’s decision. A strong knowledge of the law in the issues appealed and the ability to communicate the legal argument effectively is extremely important in appellate law. Most appeals in child related cases are expedited as the courts are sensitive to the well being of children and how they are affected by legal decisions.