The National Center for Lesbian Rights and other LGBTQ legal groups are recommending any non-biological parent complete a second parent adoption, even when a baby is born to a legally married couple. The adoption process for a parent in this situation in many states is no different than if a stranger were adopting a child. It can involve a home study, multiple court appearances, lengthy paperwork including affidavits and character references, among other requirements. Many parents spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer’s service to navigate the undertaking with them.
Rhode Island and New Hampshire recently passed laws making it easier for the non-biological parents and LGBTQ couples to adopt the children born to their spouses. However, a similar bill in Massachusetts did not advance before the legislative session ended.
On July 21, Governor Gina Raimondo signed the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act into law after a years-long quest by advocates. Starting on January 1, 2021, a non-biological LGBTQ parent will only have to fill out a simple Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form to adopt their child.
Andi Wheeler of Pawtucket, RI told Tagg, “It is the greatest of reliefs to know that our family, instead of going through a rigorous and expensive home study, will merely have to sign a piece of paper to provide proof of parentage. I had a lot of anxiety…as it had been described as invasive and our family had already been through so much to have this child.”
Wheeler and their wife had been trying for a child for four years while advocating for this change in the law. Wheeler’s wife is now due in October and Wheeler says they “feel incredibly lucky that this passed in Rhode Island mere months before our child’s due date.”
In New Hampshire, Governor Christopher Sununu signed a similar simplification into law on July 20. “All children deserve to be protected by a secure legal connection to their parents,” says Polly Crozier, Senior Staff Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders in a press release. “Parentage laws across the country are still catching up to the realities of how families are formed today.”
Massachusetts is still catching up. An Act to Promote Efficiency in Co-Parent Adoptions did not come to a vote before the state’s legislative session ended on July 31. LGBTQ parents in Massachusetts have inconsistent experiences from court to court, some having the required home study or court appearance waived and others not.
Alisha Sarang-Sieminski and their spouse adopted their own child two years ago in Massachusetts. “The judge we had forced us to come in and yelled at us for not being excited about being there and not bringing our child,” Sarang-Sieminski explains. “We told her that we didn’t want to traumatize him or let him know that we had to do this.”
Kate Swope and her wife are among the many Massachusetts couples who had a supportive judge who waived the home study and court appearance so they only had to mail in paperwork for their adoption a year ago. Even so, Swope paid $4,000 for a lawyer and it “reminded [her] of being a second class citizen.”
“[It’s] important that we remove any impediments to family creation in the Commonwealth, not only for LGBTQ couples but for the children in those families,” says Tanya Neslusan, executive director of Massachusetts LGBTQ advocacy group MassEquality. Neslusan hopes to see the bill pass next year so that “we don’t discriminate against any types of family formation by inadvertently creating barriers.”