By Kathy Brodsky, L.C.S.W
How I hate that term – second parent – all parents should be equal. Unfortunately, under the law, that’s not the case until after the adoption finalization process.
During this process, the court finalization grants the “second” parent the same rights as the “first” parent, who is either a biological (“natural parent”) or an adoptive parent, without the legal parent losing any rights.
How unfair – making you legally establish child-parent rights and responsibilities, when you are already bonded to the child and living that way. Let’s look at why the adoption proceeding is actually a good thing, by breaking it down into why second parent adoptions are done, how they protect both parental and children’s rights, and why an adoption homestudy is required.
Second parent adoptions are typically done when:
- States do not allow LGBTQ couples to adopt a child during the same court procedure.
- One LBGTQ partner is biologically (legally) related to the child and the “second” parent needs to establish the parent-child relationship legally.
- Couples bring children from one marriage to another, in which a legal parent agrees to have the new step-parent adopt the child.
- Donor sperm or egg are used in some situations when the person(s) who will parent are not biologically related to the DNA material.
The court process:
- Depending upon your jurisdiction and if you are working alone or with an attorney, documents are filed with your local Family or Surrogates Court.
- The court reviews the adoption petition and the accompanying paperwork, including birth certificates of the parents and child to be adopted, the adoption homestudy, child abuse and criminal clearances, financial verification, reference letters, physician statements as well as the original adoption decree (if the child was adopted by the current legal parent). The court will review documents terminating a legal parent’s rights should one consent to the adoption, or review documentation terminating a parent’s rights, allowing the “second” parent to become the legal parent.
- A finalization hearing is scheduled where the legal (biological or adoptive) parent and the prospective adoptive parent (“second” parent) and the child appear in court. The judge will confirm the prospective adoptive (“second”) parent’s intentions and commitment to parent the child and the legal parent’s desire to share parenting, and make an adoption determination. If the child is old enough, typically over 10 years of age, the judge will ask the child about the relationship they have with their parents and if they understand the adoption proceedings.
- If the adoption is to be finalized, the judge issues an adoption order. Once the order is entered into the court record, a new birth certificate, including any changes to the child’s name, will be issued for the child.
- Because it takes varying amounts of time to issue the new birth certificate (typically a few months), the “second” parent’s information is added to or replaces the former legal parent’s information on the existing birth certificate. The information on the child, including where born, remains the same.
The Adoption Homestudy:
This is a state mandated report conducted and written by a local social worker to assess if the adoption is in the “best interest of the child.”
The court may select the adoption social worker or allow the family to choose a “disinterested party” to conduct the visit and write the report.
Some people resent the homestudy process. They do not understand why a court needs to legally sanction the parent-child relationship they have established already. Others are nervous having the social worker come into their home. They worry they will not have the right answers, or say the wrong thing. The actuality is that the questions asked and information collected is material with which you are already familiar.
In essence, the court is asking the social worker to determine if the child’s physical, psychological, emotional, social, academic and financial needs are being met. The homestudy includes a home visit, an interview with all household members, a couple’s interview and a family interview. Much of the report is based upon your history, family relationships, work and financial stability, your understanding of childrearing and parenting and the current household relationships, including those of child and parent. The social worker will assess if your home is a safe environment where a child can grow and flourish. They will also discuss your plans to share the adoption and how you became a family with the child as they grow and mature. If your child is old enough, the social worker will discuss the upcoming adoption with them as well.
Documentation includes, but is not limited to birth certificates, marriage and divorce decrees, adoption decrees, medical reports on all household members, child abuse and criminal clearances, financial verification and reference letters.
Social workers know families come in all shapes and sizes. You do not have to be wealthy or famous to adopt. You need to demonstrate you are financially stable and have sufficient income to provide for a child. You need to be medically stable. That does not mean you can’t take prescribed medications or have a history of even a serious medical condition. You need to show that your home will be a safe space and have ample room for a growing family. You need to have an understanding of what it means to be a family, of meeting your child’s need, as well as yours as individuals and a couple. You should have the support of family and friends. Lastly, you need to understand that adoption is more than a one-time legal process. It is a lifelong complexity, with its joys, wonders and challenges, of who your family has become.
The homestudy concludes with a recommendation of any needed services, evaluations and/or the finalization of the adoption, and is submitted to the Family or Surrogates Court.
Protection of a second adoption:
Second Parent Adoption is a good thing for all family members. It allows the “second” parent to legally establish a parent-child relationship without the legal parent losing their rights to the child.
Both parents will now have equal responsibility and say in the child’s medical care, academic and educational needs, extra-curricular activities, and cultural and religious upbringing. Any challenge to your relationship with the child is eradicated. Your child’s entitlement to inheritance rights are also now protected.
If Second Parent adoption is not allowed in your state:
While more and more states are allowing second parent adoption for LGBTQ families, there are those that still deny parents this right. If you are unable to complete a second parent adoption, consult an attorney about creating a Co-Parenting Agreement. This document details how you will both carry out the rights and responsibilities regarding the child’s medical, financial support, legal inheritance, as well as, custody arrangements if you should dissolve your relationship., It also details how future decisions and disputes will be managed.
More and more LGBTQ couples are having families biologically or through adoption. It is important to understand when you can do a “second” parent adopting, the implications and ramifications of not legally securing parental rights, how to pursue the adoption or how to protect your rights if adoption is not permitted. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Make sure yours is legally protected.
About the Author: Kathy Ann Brodsky, L.C.S.W. is known as The Adoption Maven. She is a social worker, and adoptive parent. Her work can be found here: theadoptionmaven.blogspot.com