You’re getting ready to welcome your bundle of joy – congrats! – and, as soon-to-be same-sex parents you are wondering what steps you need to take to secure your legal protections over your child. Let’s break down birth certifications and second parent adoption.
The good news is that since 2017 following the passage of marriage equality in the U.S., both parents can be listed on the birth certificate from the moment your baby is born. This document is a helpful recognition of your family. You will have an easy opportunity to fill out the information that will appear on the birth certificate right in the hospital after your baby is born.
If you are married, there is also court precedent that recognizes a presumption of parentage, meaning if you and your spouse were married prior to the birth of your child, most courts of law in the U.S. will affirm that you are the legally rightful parents.
Second parent adoption
That said, the birth certificate is not technically a legally binding document and is largely unrecognized outside of the U.S. Similarly, your marriage is not universally recognized around the world, particularly in places where same-sex marriage remains illegal. So while it’s still an important step, logistically and emotionally, to have both parents listed on the birth certificate, you should also pursue a legal second parent adoption to create more secure protections for your family. Second parent adoption is also known in some jurisdictions as stepparent adoption, which is misleading because we know two same-gender parents are not stepparents, but that is what the legal process is sometimes called.
Second parent adoption papers are the only globally recognized documents that will affirm and protect your LGBTQ+ family fully and legally. It’s a critical step in ensuring fairness and protections for your family in instances in which you might be traveling to countries where marriage equality isn’t recognized, if you go through divorce or separation and are seeking parental or visitation rights and child support payments, or if marriage equality laws were ever to change in the U.S. or in particular jurisdictions within the U.S.
Understanding the process
The second parent adoption process is a bit of a legal patchwork quilt. Every state has a different process, some incredibly different than others and some much more onerous, unfortunately. In some places, you need only to fill out a one-page form and mail it to the court. In others, you have to submit to a rigorous, long-winded, invasive, and even expensive process. You may be required to hire and pay for an accredited social worker who will pay you a home visit and observe your family and take notes about your fitness to parent (mind you, after your child is born and you are already parenting). This can be painful and incredibly frustrating.
You may need to submit to background checks and even bloodwork, often at your own expense as well. Finally, you may need to retain a lawyer who can submit the mounds of required paperwork on your behalf and help you navigate the often-complex court system.
The process can take anywhere from a single day to upwards of a year or more, depending on where you live. Some states allow you to start or even complete the process before the child is born; others won’t allow you to file a petition until after the child is born, or when certain thresholds are completed. It can cost anywhere from $30 to thousands of dollars, again, depending on where you live and your state’s requirements.
There is building awareness about the need to update laws in many states to make the second parent adoption process easier. Regardless, it’s worth investing the time and effort to ensure that your beautiful family is safe and protected.