For same-sex couples who have children, either through birth or adoption, often only one of the two is the legal parent.
However, as the tide has changed, and same-sex marriage is becoming legal in more states, couples that have children are finding a secondary benefit to marriage – being able to legally adopt their partner’s child through a step-parent adoption.
It’s important to clarify the difference between stepparent and second-parent adoption. A second-parent adoption essentially involves two legally unrelated people becoming parents to the child. In such cases, there generally is more paperwork required, including a background check and a home study, which take time and are an added cost. In addition, if there is a biological parent, they must agree to have their legal rights terminated.
A stepparent adoption is when a married stepparent adopts his or her spouse’s child. If a biological parent is involved, it would require them to give up their parental rights before such an adoption can take place. With the legalization of gay marriage in Florida, stepparent adoption is now available for same-sex couples.
I recently handled a case in which my client had legally adopted her two children many years ago. My client’s long-time partner raised the children as her own, but had no legal rights. Although they had legal documents that named her partner the legal guardian of the children in the event something happened to the mother, they wanted to ensure that no one could contest their decision.
I filed a petition for stepparent adoption on behalf of my client’s partner to legally adopt the child. Because in this case there was no biological parent to contest the decision, a court date was set, a hearing was held and the adoption was finalized. The parents then submitted paperwork to have a new birth certificate issued with both parents name.
As a result, the stepparent became the legal parent of the children with all of the same rights and responsibilities of the other parent.
As the judge noted during the hearing, this is not a decision to be made lightly. Once an adoption is finalized, it cannot be undone. As in any marriage, both parents are legally responsible for the children until they reach the age of maturity.
If you are considering a stepparent or second parent adoption, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure your rights are properly represented.
Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.
Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
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