Adoption is a lifelong commitment, and relationships change over time, especially as children age. Becoming licensed to adopt can be time-consuming and stressful, and connection to your adoptee may not happen overnight. Below are some frequently asked questions that may help you in considering and going through the adoption process.
Do LGBT adoption laws vary state by state?
Yes. Each state has its own laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to LGBTQ adoption. Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws allow LGBTQ individuals to adopt as individuals or jointly as partners, and an LGBTQ individual may adopt their partner’s child.
What adoption options are there?
- State or Public Agency Adoption: Adoption of a child in foster care from the public child welfare system. These children tend to be older and have been removed from their birth parents due to abuse or neglect. A series of classes on how to successfully parent these children is often required.
- Agency Open Adoption: Adopt through an adoption agency.
- Open Independent Adoption: On your own, find birth parents who want or need to place their child in adoption, and complete that adoption through an attorney.
- International adoption: Adopt a child from another country through an agency or independently. It is very difficult to pursue an international adoption as an openly same-sex couple or openly LGBTQ single person. Many countries with adoptions available are prejudiced against LGBTQ individuals.
What if my spouse or partner has a child? Can I adopt them?
Yes. This is called “second-parent adoption.” A second-parent adoption allows a second parent to adopt a child without the “first parent” losing any parental rights. In this way, the child comes to have two legal parents. It also typically grants adoptive parents the same rights as biological parents in custody and visitation matters.
What is the purpose of “other evidence” to prove we are a family?
Some states have recently recognized a new legal concept called “psychological parenthood,” “de facto parenthood,” or “parenthood by estoppel.” This has granted non-legal lesbian parents visitation privileges in recognition of a very close relationship, if not a legal one, with the child. In establishing this, courts look for facts including:
- The non-legal parent lived with the child.
- The non-legal parent took on a parental role by accepting significant responsibility for the child’s care and development without the expectation of pay or other compensation.
- The legal parent consented to and fostered the non-legal parent’s relationship with the child.
- The non-legal parent’s relationship with the child formed over a sufficiently long period of time so that the child feels a bond with the non-legal parent.
What is a co-parenting agreement?
Co-parenting agreements state that while only one of you is considered the legal parent, both of you consider yourselves equal parents with shared rights and responsibilities to care for your child. Such agreements also typically spell out how these joint rights and responsibilities will be carried out around the child’s medical care, financial support, and legal inheritance. They also specify how the couple will share custody in the event of a break-up and how they would manage disputes.
What is a custody agreement?
Custody agreements are similar to prenuptial agreements in that they outline ahead of time how you agree to conduct yourself during your relationship, and how to behave in the event of a break-up. Alternatively, some couples manage to develop such agreements after deciding to separate, especially if their separation is an amicable one. In either event, preparing a custody agreement with your partner can provide a non-legal parent with a much greater degree of control in the event of a separation.
What factors should I consider in a co-parenting agreement and/or custody agreement?
- Who will the child live with?
- Who will make major decisions such as health care and schooling for your child?
- Will the child spend part of the week (month, or year) living with one parent, and live part with another? And will both parents share in making major decisions?
- How will you both provide for your child’s medical and educational needs?
- In what religion, if any, do you plan for your child to be raised?
- What financial, familial, or other resources you both will offer?
- How you will resolve disputes?
- What you will do if either parent moves?
- What will you do if one of you violates the agreement?
Does it take longer for same-sex couples to adopt than non-LGBTQ couples?
Not necessarily. The time it takes to adopt depends on a number of variables, including whether pre-adoption classes are required, how long it takes to complete your home study, and how long it takes to find the right child for your family. Keep in mind that a connection may not happen right away.
How do we become licensed to adopt?
There are many steps an individual or couple must take to be licensed to adopt in the United States. Prospective parents will go through a series of interviews, paperwork, and questionnaires before officially becoming licensed.
How do I find an LGBTQ-friendly adoption agency?
When looking into an adoption agency, ask the following questions:
- Does the agency’s mission statement mention the LGBTQ community?
- Does the agency’s client non-discrimination statement include the terms “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”?
- Does the agency use LGBTQ inclusive advertising images?
- Does the agency have LGBTQ inclusive paperwork?
Speaking to local LGBTQ organizations and friends is a great way to learn about LGBTQ-friendly agencies. Local community centers are also excellent resources.