Second Parent Adoption: Is It Really All That?

second parent adoption justice

By Charlotte Capogna-Amias

Hopes for a Radical Alternative for Queer, Non-Gestational Parents

Earlier this year I was asked to speak on a panel on supporting marginalized families at a national reproductive justice conference. One of the topics that I was charged with covering was second parent adoption, specifically sharing my personal experience as a non-gestational parent who adopted her own daughter. Let me say first, I am not a lawyer and this legal business is highly complicated when it comes to second parent adoption, especially given that we live in a nation where some states allow non-gestational parents to petition for one and others don’t. I had prepared a talk that included my critiques of second parent adoption, all while saying that, yes, I very am thankful that I live in a state where I was able to gain equal parental rights as a non-gestational, non-biological parent to my daughter. Yes, we have come a long way historically around rights for queer parents and we need all fifty states to have secure second parent adoption provisions for same sex couples. But no, I don’t think second parent adoption is necessarily the ultimate answer. No, I didn’t find the process empowering and liberating to me as a parent.

My critiques were the following:

- We live in what is possibly one of the most supportive geographic areas in the country in terms of LGBT rights and we had a Pollyanna-esque courthouse experience when I filed for a second parent adoption. The judge cozied up to us for a family photo and the police officer in the room snapped the camera. Despite being positively received in the courtroom, I found it insulting that even though I was with my spouse through the entire insemination process, her pregnancy, and birth, I was still forced to adopt my own daughter if I wanted any legal rights as a parent. As my handmade sign stated that my daughter’s chubby fist clung to while we were taking pictures: “They were already my mothers!” Damn straight (well, you know what I mean…).

- Having to fill out highly personal, invasive paperwork about your intimate relationship, your history with the law, and more, so that you can be rubber-stamped by the court that you are fit to parent your child is not my idea of a good time. If anything the process made me feel de-legitimized as a parent. A friend of mine who also lives in Massachusetts had to get a letter from someone attesting that she was a good mother. She expressed to me that not only did she feel embarrassed and outraged to have to ask someone for this letter; she also felt that she had few people she could approach who would understand the complexities of why this process might be upsetting to her.

- It is expensive to go through the second parent adoption process and for some this expense might be prohibitive. Our legal fees were around $3500. It also meant repeated meetings with a lawyer, arranging childcare, and taking a day off from work to go to the courthouse. We got this money back through a tax credit (more than a year later), but we had to take out money on a home equity line on our house (which we paid interest on) since we didn’t have the money upfront. We’re fortunate that we even had this option. We also had to re-submit all our paperwork to the IRS and hound them repeatedly, because in 2011 they audited all second parent adoptions. Yes, you can file for a second parent adoption without a lawyer, but from what I’ve heard that has its own challenges and often couples who do so have to jump through extra hoops as part of the process. This might include the court requiring that you put an ad in a local newspaper making an announcement in case the child’s “father” wants to come forward and petition for rights. Some states require a home visit where your house is inspected to make sure it’s safe for the child and you’re observed interacting with your child to make sure you’re a suitable parent.

- If you have had negative experiences with the legal system, filing for a second parent adoption might not feel like a very viable option.

- Depending on where you live, finding and accessing a lawyer who has experience with second parent adoptions might be challenging.

The problem many people in the audience at the panel wanted the answer to though was this: if not second parent adoption, then what do you propose? Somehow I had overlooked this very obvious question in all my nervous preparation. After all, I might be a perfectionist and a massive over-preparer, but the focus of my support for non-gestational parents has not been on the legal front, it has more been around ways to emotionally hold this community. I felt caught on the panel stark naked: what was my suggestion? Audience members started throwing out hypothetical alternatives: “would you propose this… or what about this?” None of them felt much more liberatory or empowering as I sat and listened to their ideas. Was it enough to know that second parent adoption was something I supported, for now, but that something better had to be created or the process needed to be handled differently? A friend of mine who was sitting in the audience gently and kindly assured me afterwards that I had fielded the questions fine and reminded me that I shouldn’t have to come up with a solution on my own. Developing an alternative should be a community effort. When I looked later to see what alternatives were being suggested by the radical queer community, frankly, I couldn’t find much. Is everyone ok with being seen as second class parents who need to have privilege, emotional resiliency, and live in the right state to gain first class legal status? I find that hard to believe. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough or I missed something. My hunch is though, that we need to work together to craft our own vision of something altogether different and awesome. So I ask you: what would your vision be?

Charlotte Capogna-Amias started writing in high school and produced two DIY zines in which she had a fan base of fellow punks around the country who were also trying to make meaning of their lives through stories, rants and art. These days Charlotte studies in the Amherst Writers & Artists method and her writing on parenthood has appeared in Hip Mama magazine and the forthcoming web publication of This Bridge Called My Baby. Charlotte is the co-founder and facilitator of the Queer Non-Gestational Parents Group- a support group based in western Massachusetts. Charlotte has a Masters in Social Justice Education and works for a university support program for students who are low-income, first generation college students or have a disability. Charlotte lives in western Massachusetts with her spouse and energetic two-year-old daughter. In her spare time (that was funny), Charlotte is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Betsy Fife Archer, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Betsy blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com

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