January 8, 2018

You May Need to Adopt to Protect Your Family

You May Need to Adopt to Protect Your Family

Because of innovations in reproductive science and technology and the acceptance of non-traditional families, countless people can have the joy of parenthood that was previously not available to them.  But many parents may not be aware that the emotional ties that they have developed with the child they brought into their lives and hearts may not be enough to establish a legally recognized and supported parent-child relationship.  Without that, your family may be at risk.

The legal parent-child relationship gives rights and responsibilities to both the parents and the child.  The legal parent has the right to the child’s medical and educational information and to participate in those decisions and the general upbringing of the child.  The legal parent has a right to access to the child.  The legal parent is the child’s legal guardian after the death of the other parent, regardless of the other parent’s wishes.  With the rights go the obligation for a parent to support the child and other obligations. The child has the right to support from the legal parent and to inherit from the legal parent.

Here are some heartbreaking situations that could have been avoided if the non-biological parent had adopted the child.

Mom has a Child.  Mom and Stepparent marry after the death of the biological dad. Stepparent and Child become as close as any parent and child can be.  However, when Mom divorces Stepparent, the divorce court doesn’t recognize Stepparent as a parent and allows Mom to relocate out of state with Child and otherwise freeze Stepparent out of the relationship with Child. Whether Stepparent is a man or woman wouldn’t have impacted the outcome.

A couple have a long term committed relationship but do not marry.  They start a family using assisted reproductive technology so that only one of them is a biological parent.  Both the biological and the non-biological parent are named on the child’s birth certificate.  When non-biological parent unexpectedly dies, the child didn’t automatically, and might not ever, receive the social security benefits and inheritance that a legal child would have.  Adding the non-biological partner’s name to the birth certificate does not necessarily establish the legal parent-child relationship. And again, whether the couple is same sex or opposite sex doesn’t determine the outcome.

The way to avoid these results is for the non-biological partner to adopt the child.  Adoption results in a court order that establishes the legal relationship of parent-child. That order is recognized throughout the United States.  Same sex couples also need to remember that while their marital rights are now legally protected, complete protection for the non-biological same sex spouse can only be achieved through adoption.

Laws governing adoption in modern families are complex and can be confusing and intimidating.  Missteps can result in unexpected and irreparable negative consequences.  You owe it to yourself, your partner and, especially, to your child to get legal advice to address your needs and risks, if possible even before a pregnancy. 

This article originally appeared in the January 4, 2018 edition of The Cheshire Citizen, published by RJ Media Group.

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