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The secret no one tells you about unmarried adoptions

Adoption is a very complex process, made more complex because the law varies state by state. It can be extremely confusing for married couples to pursue adoption knowledgeably and successfully, but even that is relatively simple compared to how things can be for unmarried couples.

More: 4 tips to make your adoption journey quick and successful

Fewer families today fit the definition of “traditional.” In many instances, adoption law has lagged a bit behind what’s considered socially acceptable. Yet, times are slowly changing, as evidenced by the story that made headlines in March when the Supreme Court overturned Alabama’s ruling against a lesbian mother’s Georgia adoption. The couple divorced and one mother was trying to maintain her parental rights for the child. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling that said she no longer had parental rights. This ruling has implications for any unmarried couple that is interested in adopting, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

If you are an unmarried couple who is looking to adopt, second parent adoption is one of the most popular avenues that allows both people to parent together in the eyes of the law.

How second parent adoption works

Second parent adoption is popular because of the simplicity of the process, and is how most unmarried couples adopt together. One partner goes through the adoption process as a single parent. Once the adoption is finalized with the first parent, the other partner goes through a separate adoption process called ‘second parent adoption,’ which basically consists of some paperwork filings and possibly a court appearance.

More: How to get prepared before your adopted baby comes home

How to perform second parent adoption safely

With a second parent adoption, there are some best practices to ensure your adoption is completely safe and absolutely solid. Make sure that the rights of the biological parent(s) have been terminated before the second parent adoption proceeds. This means the child will always have one or two legal parents, but not more. Having more can cause loopholes in parental right laws that could deny rights to the legal adoptive parents.

For example, let’s say a husband and wife have children and then get divorced. The wife finds a new partner who wants to legally adopt the children from the previous marriage. To go through the process, the first husband’s rights have to be terminated before the new partner can adopt the children. This applies whether the new partner is male or female.

In a private domestic adoption, where neither adoptive parent is the biological parent, then both birth parents’ rights will be terminated according to state law regardless of who the adoptive parent(s) are.

Other options besides second parent adoption

Many people ask if there is a way to go through adoption as an unmarried couple without having to perform second parent adoption. Depending on the state law, judges may allow unmarried couples to adopt together at the beginning of the process instead of having to perform second parent adoption after the fact. However, with the way laws differ from state to state, it is currently still safer to complete a second parent adoption.

No matter what adoption avenue you take, make sure you work with experienced and knowledgeable adoption professionals. The laws are still catching up with people’s actions, so it’s important to work with people who are experts in the field and know how to protect your rights every step of the way.

More: How to navigate IVF as a same-sex couple

Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months.

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