Today was a special day for us – my adoption of Addison became official! It seems a bit ludicrous that I had to adopt my own child, but it was a necessary and important legal act to protect all of us. Why? Because even though my marriage to Kendra is legal in Massachusetts, and my name is on Addison’s birth certificate, once we leave the state, all bets are off. For example, if we travel to a state that does not recognize gay marriage, they will also not recognize my relationship with Addie. If Kendra were to get hurt or incapacitated in that state, social services would take Addie into custody. For me, the prospect of this is terrifying. So, to make sure we never have to worry, I legally adopted Addison.
In most states, a second-parent adoption is the avenue through which GLBT folks adopt the biological or adopted child of their spouse without that parent giving up their parental rights. However, not all states offer that option. Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin do not permit second-parent adoptions, and another 17 states have not made clear rulings in the matter. (Florida outright bans gay adoption.)
Why is it important for second-parent adoption? I think the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines the benefits well:
Children deserve to know that their relationships with both of their parents are stable and legally recognized. This applies to all children, whether their parents are of the same or opposite sex. Second-Parent adoption:
- Guarantees that the second parent’s custody rights and responsibilities will be protected if the first parent were to die or become incapacitated. Moreover, second-parent adoption protects the child’s legal right of relationships with both parents. In the absence of coparent adoption, members of the family of the legal parent, should he or she become incapacitated, might successfully challenge the surviving coparent’s rights to continue to parent the child, thus causing the child to lose both parents.
- Protects the second parent’s rights to custody and visitation if the couple separates. Likewise, the child’s right to maintain relationships with both parents after separation, viewed as important to a positive outcome in separation or divorce of heterosexual parents, would be protected for families with gay or lesbian parents.
- Establishes the requirement for child support from both parents in the event of the parents’ separation.
- Ensures the child’s eligibility for health benefits from both parents.
- Provides legal grounds for either parent to provide consent for medicalcare and to make education, health care, and other important decisions on behalf of the child.
- Creates the basis for financial security for children in the event of the death of either parentby ensuring eligibility to all appropriate entitlements, such as Social Security survivors benefits.
Kendra and I have no plans on ever parting ways, but we have witnessed how difficult things can be when a gay couple with children does split and there was never a second-parent adoption. It’s less messy in Massachusetts, but in other states, the non-bio parent can lose all access to a child they helped conceive and raise. In addition to protecting our mother-daughter relationship outside of Massachusetts, making sure Addie has the eligibility and access to both of our health care plans, social security, etc. was one of our motivating factors for the formal adoption. (Sadly, though Addie is now eligible for my social security benefits, Kendra is not thanks to DOMA.)
In Massachusetts, being married to Addie’s biological mom technically made me her step-parent, so it was a quick and easy process for us to adopt. We met with our lawyer, who had us fill out paperwork and gather the necessary supporting documents (marriage certificate, birth certificates, etc.). Her paralegal completed the legal forms and made our court date. All we had to do today was show up at court.
When we arrived at court this morning, Addie ran around making friends with everyone in the lobby. After our lawyer collected our file, she handed it off to one of the court officers that Addie was trying to play with while we waited. He took it to the judge, who then invited us into her chambers. She was extraordinarily nice, and seemed genuinely happy for our special day. She let Addie play with her gavel, which she loved! We all decided Addison has a future in the field of law. Then, after reading her decree that Addison was from here on the legal daughter of both me an Kendra, she signed the paperwork. At that moment, Addison became my legal daughter not just in Massachusetts, but everywhere.
As we left the judge’s chambers, she gave Addison a cute stuffed flower to remember her this day. Our friend Beth had come along to support us, and she took pictures of the three of us with the judge.
The four of us went to breakfast afterward to celebrate :) There’s nothing quite like french toast and orange juice to commemorate an important legal event!