Making it Easier to Secure Nonbiological Parents’ Rights: Take Action in 3 States

Making it Easier to Secure Nonbiological Parents' Rights: Take Action
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Yes, even in Massachusetts, which led the nation in marriage equality, married same-sex couples who use assisted reproduction still need to do lengthy, expensive, and intrusive second-parent adoptions in order for their children to have ironclad legal ties to both parents. A new bill would greatly simplify the process. Bills in New Hampshire and Rhode Island would also streamline the recognition of nonbiological parents—but they all need your support.Crib

It’s true that married same-sex couples who use assisted reproduction in any state may now put both parents’ names on their children’s birth certificates—the U.S. Supreme Court said so. (Indiana wants to change that, but that’s another post.) Birth certificates do not have the legal weight of an adoption or court order of parentage, however, especially across state and national boundaries. Every major LGBTQ legal organization has long advised the nonbiological or nongestational member of such couples to get second-parent adoptions or parentage orders.

Second-parent adoptions (or “confirmatory adoptions,” in newer parlance) in Massachusetts (and most other states), however, cost money (usually two to three thousand dollars) and require an intrusive home study, a court appearance, a background check, a notice to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), a missing children’s register search, and a minimum residency period. Whew. The process cannot be started until the child is born, and then usually take several months, leaving the child vulnerable should something happen to the biological or gestational parent.

Bills currently in the Massachusetts Legislature, H.1485 in the House and the identical S.1013 in the Senate, would remove all of the above burdens and merely require same-sex couples, married or not, to submit some paperwork in order to do a second-parent adoption—no lawyer, court appearance, home study, or any of the other stuff needed. Not only is this easier on the couples, but it reduces the burden on DCF and the courts, thus also reducing the cost to the state. The bills have been voted out of committee; they now need to come to a vote on the floor.

Sarah Prager, a Massachusetts mom (and the author of two great books on LGBTQ history), shared with me her personal experience and why she believes this legislation is so important:

After you’ve wanted to have this child together, figured out conception together, been there through the pregnancy and delivery, cut the cord, been up in the middle of the night, and every single other thing a parent does when their child comes from one of the people in a marriage’s body, adopting that child feels like an insult, as if the child were not already yours. The fact that we have to do it at all is a problem, but as long as we don’t have a biological connection we do have to protect ourselves. The least the state can do is make that process less painful for us by not requiring humiliating home visits, court appearances that require time off of work, or invasive questionnaires. This bill would change the current process to just a few simple, clear forms to be mailed in, which would help families like ours immensely.

My own experience supports this. My spouse and I lived in New Jersey when we started our family via reciprocal IVF (my egg, her womb) nearly two decades ago. I would have had to adopt my own genetic son, but we worked with a lawyer to petition the court for a pre-birth order of parentage. We still had to pay the lawyer and make a court appearance, but we were both legal parents from the moment of birth and avoided both the home study and the absurdity of me having to adopt a child who carries my DNA. Now we live in Massachusetts, and I’m committed to helping improve the process here as well, especially since the state has had second-parent adoptions since 1993. It’s about damn time the process caught up with the reality of our families.

The New Hampshire Legislature also recently passed similar legislation, which provides a simplified second-parent adoption process (and also expands it to include unmarried parents). It awaits Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) signature; GLAD is urging people to contact him about this.

Simplified processes for recognizing nonbiological/nongestational parents are a growing trend. California has had such a process since 2015 and New Jersey enacted similar legislation earlier this year. Several other states have also enacted slightly different methods for quickly and easily securing a nonbiological/nongestational parent’s rights—California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, and Washington State now offer simple, free Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP) forms that can be filled out at the hospital. (See my longer post about them.) Massachusetts offers these as well, but only for unmarried couples (though another bill now in committee, H. 139, would expand them to married couples).

Legislation pending in Rhode Island could mean VAPs there as well; the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act, H7541, includes them among several updates to parenting laws in the state. It was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee last week and will get floor votes in both Houses on July 16.

If you live in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, now is the time to take action.

  • In Massachusetts, call or e-mail your state senators and representatives immediately (the legislative session ends July 31) and ask them to support passage of H.1485 and S.1013. Also call Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D; 617.722.1500) and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo (D; 617.722.2500). If you have a compelling personal story, by all means share it. GLAD and MassEquality in a webinar on July 10 also suggested emphasizing increased efficiency (less clogging of the courts; less burden on DCF) and reduced costs—practical considerations that may sway lawmakers. A few other talking points are on this Fact Sheet from GLAD (pdf).
  • In New Hampshire, call Governor Sununu’s office at 603.271.2121 and ask him to sign HB1162.
  • In Rhode Island, call or e-mail your representatives and senators this week, before the vote on Thursday, and ask them to support the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act, H7541. Find a sample letter here.

If you don’t live in these states but have friends or family there, please pass on this information. Follow GLAD Legal Advocates and Defenders for updates on this and other legislation in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and other New England states.

Thanks to Patience Crozier, GLAD senior staff attorney, for providing me with some background for this piece.

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