Same-sex couples often need to go through the adoption process when they wish to start a family. Since so many states lack adequate protections of the parental rights of these couples, adoption is one way for the parents to ensure that they will be able to spend time with the child in the event that the relationship ends.
From time to time, we come across cases from other states that highlight some of the difficulties that same-sex couples encounter when trying to adopt a child. A recent case out of Nevada shows exactly what can happen when things do not go according to plan.
The facts of the case
In this particular situation, a gay couple had decided to adopt a child using a religious adoption agency. The agency did not allow joint adoptions for same-sex couples, so the men decided that one person would be the main person for the purpose of the adoption.
Both men participated in the adoption process, however, only one would be listed on the adoption certificate at first. The second man would be added later after the child arrived. Both parties submitted to background checks and complied with all aspects that the agency required in order for the adoption to be approved.
In February of 2013, the couple was notified that they would receive a child. The child was subsequently baptized with both men listed as the child's father. In May of 2013, the couple's relationship came to an end. The non-adopting father asked for his name to be included on the child's birth certificate, but the adopting father refused.
Both parents continued to spend time with the child after the relationship ended, with the non-adopting father receiving the majority of the time with the child. This man then filed a petition for paternity and custody, and he was successful in his case. The adoptive father contested this ruling, and the matter appeared before the Nevada Supreme Court.
The court's ruling
When deciding this case, the court considered the concept of equitable adoption. Since both parties had planned to adopt the child together, the court believed that the non-adoptive parent should not be penalized simply because he was not the father picked to go through the formal adoption process. They believed that both parents should receive time with the child.
The adoptive parent had challenged the earlier decision in the lower courts by saying that the decision treats same-sex couples unfairly. He stated that since the courts have never awarded parental rights to a heterosexual couple in this way, that this was a violation of the equal protection clause. This argument was rejected by the courts in Nevada, but, it could be one more hurdle that a same sex parent may still have to overcome if facing a similar situation in a different state with an uncertain outcome.
What this means for you and your family
If you are in a same-sex relationship, and you have either recently started a family or plan to start one in the future, make sure you talk to an experienced attorney about the various laws that apply in your situation. As you can see from the above case, anything that can go wrong often does go wrong. You do not want to be left spending time and money trying to fix something that could have been addressed much more easily early on in the process.