Let me start with the legal truth that an adoptive parent is a legal parent and has the same rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent.
On August 30, 2016, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled decisively in favor of parenting rights for unmarried, same sex couples. In The Matter of Brooke S. B. versus Elizabeth A., the Court ruled that with respect to an unmarried couple, a partner with a non-biological, non-adoptive relationship to the couple’s child may be legally recognized as a parent and allowed to seek custody and visitation rights. The non-biological, non-adoptive partner, however, must show by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive and raise the child together to establish his/her right to custody and visitation.
While this ruling is good news for non-biological parents and non-adoptive partners, relying on the new precedent and forgoing adoption may be dangerous. It is true that along with marriage equality, many states have begun to recognize a more modern and flexible definition of who is a legal parent. Laws on same sex parenting, however, still vary from state to state. The fact remains, that only an adoptive parent of a non-biological child has the same unequivocal rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent.
Adopting your non-biological child is safe, responsible parenting. It can be accomplished quickly and inexpensively. No one wants to be kept away from his or her child pending the outcome of a lengthy custody battle. Obtaining the second parent adoption order saves one from the burden of proving his or her status as a parent in the event of divorce, separation, and even death of a partner. I envision scenarios where the couple separates and the biological parent moves with the child to a state with less friendly parenting laws, or passes away, and the extended family claims custody of the child over the non-biological partner. Adoptions are court orders, which all states are required, by the Full Faith and Credit Clause, of the Unites States Constitution, to recognize. This guarantees a parent’s rights and takes the guesswork out of whether one has standing to sue for custody of one’s child.
An adoptive parent is a legal parent and may make all the same decisions for the child as the biological parent. An adoptive parent has the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education, health and medical well - being. An adoptive parent is financially responsible for the child and the child is able to inherit from his or her adoptive parent even in the absence of a will. A non-adoptive parent may find obstacles in claiming his child as a dependent for health or tax benefits and may not even be allowed to provide permission for school field trips.
The requirements to complete a second parent adoption in New York are not lengthy. They are the same requirements for a step-parent adoption among married couples. You will need to retain an attorney and obtain a home study from a licensed social worker. The court will require medical and financial updates, letters of reference and criminal and abuse background checks. Your attorney will prepare several affidavits and a petition for adoption for your signature. The court will hold a 5-10 minute finalization hearing, at which you will be invited to bring friends and family to witness and celebrate the adoption. The whole process should not take more than 4-6 months. The benefits, however, exist for a lifetime. Your family is worth it.