What is the difference between joint, second-parent, and single-parent adoptions?

A joint adoption is when both partners adopt a child together at the same time. A second-parent adoption is when one partner adopts the other partner’s child. A single-parent adoption is where a single individual adopts a child.

Can same-sex partners together adopt a child in Connecticut?

Yes.  A couple with a marriage or civil union must generally adopt a child not born into the relationship as a couple (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 45a-732 (married person cannot adopt unless spouse adopts jointly, unless probate court finds sufficient reason for spouse not to adopt)). A couple who does not have a marriage or civil union can both become legal parents of a child through a process, called “second parent adoption,” whereby one adopts (or gives birth to the child), and then the second parent adopts (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 45a-724(a)(3)).

What is the advantage of doing a second parent adoption or joint adoption?

Both joint adoptions and second parent adoptions ensure your child has two legal parents, which often provides greater comfort and security to everyone involved. Depending on your particular family situation, the law may not recognize both partners as legal parents without an adoption. In these cases, the non-legal parent needs special permission to make medical decisions for the child or attend school meetings, and is at risk of losing custody if the couple splits up.

Adoption allows a non-legal parent to become a legal parent, entitled to make decisions for the child without special authorization. It also permits the adoptive parent to automatically assume custody of the child if their partner dies. Likewise, if the adoptive parent dies, the child will have the right to inherit from them even absent a will, and may be able to collect social security survivor benefits.

Finally, if the couple separates, adoption ensures that both parents have the right to custody and visitation, and that any disputes will be decided based on what is in the best interests of the child rather than on who is the legal parent.

Do we need to do a second-parent adoption if we are married or in a civil union?

A second parent adoption is the best way to ensure the ongoing parental rights of both parents. While Connecticut law presumes that a child born into a marriage or a civil union is the child of both spouses (see Barse v. Pasternak, 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 142 (2015) (legal presumption that child born into wedlock is the legitimate child of the mother and mother’s spouse extends to same-sex couples, even if the spouse did not conceive or adopt the child or comply with artificial insemination statutes)), another state may not respect that presumption if you or your partner moves. By contrast, adoption is a court judgment creating a parent-child relationship and is very likely to be respected by other states, even if these states are otherwise hostile to same-sex couples parenting.

Miller-Jenkins Sidebar

Relying on a partner’s good will, or even on the fact that a child was born into a marriage or civil union, is not the best way to ensure the ongoing rights of both parents if a couple later separates. A case in point is Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins. This case has been in litigation since 2004, has involved two state Supreme Courts (Vermont and Virginia), and has already made several trips to the U.S. Supreme Court. Proceedings are ongoing.

In that case, Janet and Lisa had a child, Isabella, while they were in a civil union. Janet did not adopt. After the couple separated, Lisa moved to Virginia and used both the lack of an adoption, and Virginia’s laws hostile to same-sex relationships to thwart Janet’s contact with their daughter. Finally, however, the Virginia courts agreed that the Vermont courts had the authority to make custody and visitation decisions.

After many attempts to get Lisa to allow Janet visitation rights, in November, 2009, the Vermont Family Court issued an order granting Janet responsibility for the day-to-day care of Isabella while granting Lisa liberal visitation rights. The transfer of custody was to have taken place on January 1, 2010. However, Lisa failed to appear at the appointed time, and an arrest warrant was issued.  Lisa and Isabella still have not been found.

GLAD and local counsel represented Janet in the Vermont proceedings. For more information about the case, go to https://www.glad.org/work/cases/miller-jenkins-v-miller-jenkins

If I am a parent who has signed an Acknowledgement of Parentage, do I also need to do a second-parent adoption?

No. A parent who has signed an Acknowledgement of Parentage should not need to do a co-parent adoption to establish parentage. An Acknowledgement of Parentage establishes legal parentage under state law, is the equivalent of a judgment of parentage under state law and gives you all the rights and duties of a parent. Under federal law, an Acknowledgement of Parentage is the equivalent of a judicial decree of parentage and should be recognized in all states.

Since expanded access to acknowledgments of parentage is an emerging development, some parents might feel more comfortable also completing a second parent adoption in addition to or instead of an Acknowledgment of Parentage. To understand what is best for your family, individualized legal advice is recommended.

If same-sex parents raise a child together, but only one is the “legal” parent, then what rights does the non-legal parent have vis-à-vis the child?

As a general matter, the rights of a non-legal parent are limited. If a couple is unmarried, the law permits a non-legal parent to petition the Superior Court for visitation (but not custody) (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-59). The court will grant visitation if it finds that: (1) a parent-like relationship exists between the non-legal parent, and (2) denying visitation would cause real and significant harm (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-59(b)). Several Connecticut courts have allowed lesbian co-parents the right to visit with their children following a separation (see e.g. Antonucci v. Cameron, 25 Conn. L. Rptr. 509 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dept., Sept. 24, 1999) (allowing visitation to lesbian co-parent where visitation is in the best interests of the child); Laspina-Williams v. Laspina-Williams, 46 Conn. Supp. 165, 742 A.2d 840 (1999) (denying motion to dismiss of biological mother in co-parent visitation case)). A visitation award does not come with any child support obligations, but if support is offered, a legal parent may accept it.

Regardless of the status of a person’s legal rights, it is critical to remember that children form strong attachments to their parental caregivers regardless of legal labels. Separating a child from a person who has acted as their parent can be a devastating loss. Moreover, court proceedings to establish visitation will be painful and costly, so anything people can do outside of court to make decisions together about a child’s interests is strongly encouraged. See GLAD’s publication: Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families at Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families.

Short of second parent adoption, how can a family protect the interests of the child vis-à-vis their non-legal parent?

There are a number of steps which can be taken, although none offer the security of a second parent adoption.

Co-parenting Agreement: A co-parenting agreement is an agreement setting out the parents’ expectations about each other’s roles and their plans in the event of separation, disability, or death. While these agreements may not always be given full effect by courts, which are bound to make custody and visitation decisions based on the child’s best interests, they are important indicators of what the couple believed was in the best interests of the child and may influence a court’s ultimate decision.

Wills: A legal parent may nominate a guardian to take custody of the child upon the parent’s death. These wishes are given strong preference by courts. However, if the child has another legal parent living, then that person will have priority over the nominated guardian.

Power of Attorney: A legal parent may choose to grant the non-legal parent power of attorney over the child, which allows the non-legal parent to make medical or financial decisions. Power of attorney documents should be updated regularly.