Avoiding a Parent Trap: Adoption Key to Protecting Same Sex Couples’ Parental Rights

July 8, 2015

shutterstock_125845649-thumb-400x288-65254The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling validated same sex marriage nationwide. But it didn’t just impact marriage, it also changed the rights for divorce and as we’ll look at here, parenting. Now, more than ever, same sex couples need to explore the impact of the ruling on their parental rights, particularly when it comes to adoption.

Joint Adoption for Same Sex Spouses Now Allowed

In Nebraska, joint adoption by two people is only allowed if the two people are married. Before the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, same sex couples’ marriages were not legally recognized so they couldn’t jointly adopt in Nebraska.

Now that same sex marriages are valid under Nebraska law (and nationwide), married same sex couples can adopt jointly. Nebraska statutes now apply to adoption by any married couple — opposite sex and same sex couples alike. Adoptions for married same sex couples work the same way as for opposite sex spouses. There is no difference.

Stepparent Adoption May Be a Must to Protect Parental Rights

Before the Supreme Court ruling, if a same sex couple got married in another state and one partner adopted a child in Nebraska, or gave birth to a child, their partner couldn’t adopt jointly and had no parental rights under Nebraska law.

Now, however, that couple is considered legally married and all the same rights that apply to opposite sex couples apply to them. This means the non-adoptive/non-biological spouse now can – and needs to — legally adopt the child to protect his or her parental rights.

Adoption is necessary because the non-biological/non-adoptive spouse is seen as a stepparent in the eyes of the law. Stepparents do not have the same parental rights or legal protections as adoptive or biological parents.

For instance, the law doesn’t recognize the non-biological/non-adoptive spouse as anything more than a stepparent during the marriage. The only legal parent of the child is the one who adopted or gave birth. That has ramifications for medical records and consents as well as other areas of legal decision making.

And if the couple later divorces and the non-biological/non-adoptive spouse did not complete a stepparent adoption? He or she will not have parental rights after the divorce. While they may get some continued contact as a former stepparent, it isn’t guaranteed and it isn’t the same as it would have been had they completed a stepparent adoption.

Adoption Makes Parenting Permanent

Once an adoption is done, both parents are seen to be the child’s parents in the eyes of the law. That relationship – just like a biological parent/child relationship – survives divorce and death. The parent and child will have a legally protected relationship after divorce allowing for continued parenting time and financial support. The child also has the right to inherit from that parent upon the parent’s death.

Getting Help

Navigating this changed landscape of same sex adoption and parental rights created by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional recognition of same sex marriage presents some challenges. To make sure your rights — and those of your children — are protected, if you’re a same sex couple who already has children, or are thinking of becoming parents, you should meet with an experienced attorney like those at Hightower Reff. Contact us online or call us at 402-932-9550 to find out how we can help.

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