The journey of starting a family is packed with big decisions. As LGBTQ+ folks, we typically get to plan when and how children come into our families. We also handle more universal decisions: What we’ll name a child and which parenting approach we’ll practice. In all of the excitement of family planning, few prospective parents think to consult a lawyer. But for LGBTQ+ folks, this step can be critical to protecting their family unit.Family Equality, explains that establishing legal parentage is the best way for LGBTQ+ parents to confirm and protect their families. “Parentage is a legal term that references the legal relationship between a parent and a child,” she says. The means of establishing that relationship vary by state and can include adoption, a parentage order, or a voluntary acknowledgment of parentage.Meg York, Director of LGBTQ+ Family Law and Policy and Senior Policy Counsel at
York stresses that a birth certificate may not go as far as parents expect. “A birth certificate is not the same as a court order [establishing legal parentage]. A court order establishing or confirming legal parentage is final. It has to be recognized across all states and jurisdictions under the Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution,” she says. The same can’t be said for birth certificates. Even with both parents’ names, birth certificates are not entitled to recognition in other states. This puts LGBTQ+ families who move, travel, or break up without establishing legal parentage at risk.
Family Equality has created a comprehensive online resource to help LGBTQ+ parents in every state see how they can establish, secure, or confirm legal parentage through adoption. “As we’re seeing more and more anti-LGBTQ+ bills be introduced, it’s imperative that people take those additional steps and precautions now to protect the thing that matters most—and for many people, that’s their family,” York says.
So what steps should parents take now? Prospective LGBTQ+ parents should get legal advice before having a child. Legal parentage can be established in some states before a child’s birth. LGBTQ+ parents who already have children may want to look into establishing, securing, or confirming legal parentage now. York recommends looking for a local family law attorney who understands the ins and outs of state-specific laws. York also suggests looking for someone familiar with the nuances of the unique struggles and situations of LGBTQ+ parents.
Adoption and pregnancy can be expensive, but York encourages parents to consider legal counsel a non-negotiable. “The upfront cost of talking to an attorney and making sure those rights are secured is, in my opinion, well worth the prevention of the heartache and exorbitant expenses that can occur without those protections,” she says.