Guide to Second-Parent Adoption for LGBTQ+ Couples

Almost all LGBTQ+ parents should go through second-parent adoption, whether you’re planning to have biological children or adopt. This guide discusses what it is and why it should be done as soon as possible if your state allows it.

By Austin Ledzian

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Why is Second-Parent Adoption so important?

You may be in a situation where many LGBTQ+ people find themselves — they planned their family with their partner, contribute equally to parenting duties, and are in every way a parent to their child. However, if you are not the biological parent or the “first to adopt,” you may not truly have parental rights over your child. Even if both parent’s names are on the birth certificate, this does not guarantee parental rights for the non-biological parent if challenged in court — only second parent adoption or a parentage judgment can ensure that parental rights will be respected.

Even if both parent’s names are on the birth certificate, this does not guarantee parental rights for the non-biological parent if challenged in court.

A number of states require a person to be a legal parent in order to make legal and medical decisions for a child. In the event that you move to another state, go on vacation, or even travel through a state that does not have favorable LGBTQ+ laws on the books, your parental rights may be in question in the event of an emergency. As Cathy Sakimura, deputy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told The New York Times, “You can be completely respected and protected as a family in one state and be a complete legal stranger to your children in another.” Second parent adoption is the way to ensure that both parents are legal parents. Since adoptions are court orders, a final adoption by an LGBTQ+ parent must be recognized in every state, even if that state’s own laws would not have allowed the adoption. You should start the adoption soon after you start your family in order to gain this protection.

  • Should something happen to the “first” parent, the relationship of the “second” parent to your child is unquestionable (a non-legal parent may have no rights to custody or even visitation with their child).
  • Your child’s inheritance rights are also now protected (in the absence of a will stating otherwise, your child generally has no right to inherit from a person who is not a legal parent).

Who is eligible for Second-Parent Adoption?

If you are married, second parent adoption is legal in all states regardless of sexual orientation. And it is legal in some states for partners who are not married. A list of states that allows second-parent adoption for non-married couples is kept up to date here.

  • One parent is biologically related to your child and listed on the birth certificate, and the other parent needs to gain parental rights.
  • Your state does not allow LGBTQ+ couples to adopt jointly, during the same court procedure.
  • One parent legally adopted the child, and the other parent needs to gain parental rights.
  • A partner would like to adopt a child from their partner’s previous marriage, and the legal parent agrees to have the new step-parent adopt the child.
  • You and your partner jointly adopted a child (joint adoption by married LGBTQ+ people is legal in all 50 states, but some states allow agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs).

What is the cost?

On average second-parent adoptions cost between $2,000-$3,000 in legal fees. You may be eligible for a grant from a non-profit to help offset the costs, here is a list to get you started.

What is the process for second-parent adoption?

It’s typical that the second-parent adoption process cannot be started until after the child is born, so it’s important to take precautions, like making sure your “first parent’s” health insurance is best for your child. As soon as possible after your child is born or adopted, you should begin the second-parent adoption process. Mentally prepare to navigate the confusing, arcane, and expensive legal system.

Helpful sources:

More about Second-Parent Adoption:

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