How changing marriage laws affect step-parent adoption

Prior to recent court decisions finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, couples in same-sex relationships raising children together faced a plethora of issues. For example, consider the following scenario, Alexis and Ann are in a committed relationship and have lived together as though they were married for several years. The couple decides that they would like to have children together. Through the use of an anonymous donor, Ann becomes pregnant and gives birth to the couple’s daughter, Clair. Under traditional marriage laws, the non-biological mother, Alexis, could not adopt Clair via step-parent adoption. Alexis could not authorize medical treatment for Clair, could not enroll Clair in school, could not add Clair to her health insurance policy, could not be on Clair’s birth certificate, and would face a variety of legal issues regarding custody of Clair in the event Ann died.

Under changing marriage laws, however, Ann and Alexis can now become legally married. In the event they elect to get married, Alexis could adopt Clair pursuant to adoption laws that allow married couples to adopt through step-parent adoption. Alexis can also establish a legal relationship with Clair that will be recognized by the law. After completing the step-parent adoption, Alexis can act as any other parent would. She can provide health insurance coverage for Clair and even be added to Clair’s birth certificate. Given that same-sex marriage is relatively new in most states, many forms, such as birth certificates, may only provide designated spaces for “mother” and “father.” With changes in marriage laws just taking effect nationwide, many states are still in the process of revising existing forms to reflect the new legal landscape.

Consider a different scenario. Suppose Clair was actually the biological child of Amy and Amy’s ex-husband, Michael. Under these circumstances, a slightly different process would be necessary. While Michael could consent to the adoption of Clair by Alexis, if Michael won’t consent, Ann could seek to have Michael’s parental rights terminated pursuant to North Carolina General Statute 7B-1111. In order to do so, Ann would have to show that Michael is an absent father who does not support Clair financially and is otherwise uninvolved in Clair’s life. In the event Michael’s parental rights were terminated, Alexis could then move forward with step-parent adoption.

If you or your spouse has questions concerning step-parent adoption, termination of parental rights, or changing marriage laws, contact our family law attorneys to learn more.

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