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Parenting | Second Parent Adoption | New Hampshire

New Hampshire Second Parent Adoption Q&A

Can same-sex partners jointly adopt a child together in New Hampshire?

Yes, but probably only so long as they are married. In a 1987 case involving a straight couple, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that New Hampshire’s adoption statute, which permits joint adoption by a “husband and wife,” ( NH RSA 170-B:4, I) does not allow two unmarried adults to adopt together.68 Although the language of the statute is gendered, a married same-sex couple should be allowed to adopt.

What is a second-parent adoption? Is it legal in New Hampshire?

A second-parent adoption is when one partner adopts the other partner’s biological child. Although New Hampshire law has no explicit prohibition against second-parent adoptions, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. While some second-parent adoptions have been granted by the lower courts, others have been denied. If you are an unmarried couple who has been denied the ability to petition for a second-parent adoption, please contact GLAD Answers.

However, there is some good news: New Hampshire law explicitly allows for step-parent adoption, whereby one spouse adopts the other’s biological child (NH RSA 170-B:4, IV(a)). Married same-sex couples can use this process to effectuate a second-parent adoption.

For more information about both adoption and second parent adoption see Adoption Questions and Answers.

What is the advantage of doing a second parent 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 a 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.

Who is a legal parent?

A biological parent who has a relationship with their child is a legal parent. An adoptive parent is similarly a legal parent.

Even without a biological or adoptive connection, certain individuals are presumed to be legal parents by law. For instance, a man is presumed to be a father if he is married to the child’s mother or marries her after the child’s birth and acknowledges paternity in writing (NH RSA 168-B:3, I(a)). Although the statute is gendered, it should apply equally to same-sex couples (see, NH RSA 23:3 (“gender-specific terms relating to the marital relationship or familiar relationships … shall be construed to be gender-neutral for all purposes throughout New Hampshire law)).

Similarly, parentage is presumed when a person “receives the child into [their] home and openly holds out the child as [their] child” (NH RSA 168-B:3, I(d)). In a groundbreaking 2014 case, In Re Guardianship of Madelyn B. (166 N.H. 453 (2014)), the New Hampshire Supreme Court established that this presumption applies equally to same-sex parents. The court also held that a lack of biological connection did not bar the application of the presumption, since the “presumptions are driven not by biolog[y]…but by the state’s interest in the welfare of the child and the integrity of the family” (Id. at 462). GLAD and co-counsel Kysa Crusco represented the plaintiff in the case, a lesbian non-birth mother seeking to establish legal parentage of her daughter.

While this decision is an incredibly important victory for all LGBT families, having to go through a court to establish parenthood is painful and costly. Couples are strongly encouraged to obtain legal recognition of parent-child relationships outside of court. For more information, see GLAD’s publication, Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families.

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

A second parent adoption is the best way to ensure the ongoing parental rights of both partners. Even if New Hampshire law presumes you are a legal parent, 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.

Does New Hampshire have laws that pertain to surrogacy?

Yes. In 2014, the New Hampshire General Court passed Senate Bill 353, An Act Relative to Surrogacy (NH RSA 168-B, available at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2014/SB0353.html), which updated New Hampshire’s surrogacy law to reflect advances in assisted reproductive technologies. Previously New Hampshire law allowed surrogacy only when the intended mother’s eggs were used, and only when the intended parents were married. The new Act, which is one of the most comprehensive and forward-looking surrogacy laws in the country, allows all individuals to become parents via surrogacy regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

The Act also simplified the legal process for intended parents, establishing standardized criteria for gestational carrier agreements and ensuring that all parties are legally protected. It sets minimum requirements for gestational carrier agreements and recognizes that these agreements are legally enforceable contracts. However, it is important to note that the Act allows a surrogate to keep the child if she executes a signed writing of her intention and delivers it to the intended parents at least 72 hours prior to the birth (see NH RSA 168-B:25, I-IV).

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?

These are tricky cases, but a non-legal parent may be able show that they stand in loco parentis to their child, entitling them to a limited number of rights, including the ability to intervene in custody proceedings. To establish in loco parentis, an individual must show that they admitted the child into their family and treated the child as a family member, forming a “psychological parent-child relationship.”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Co-guardianship: A legal parent may choose to name the non-legal parent as a co-guardian. This process allows the non-legal parent to make the same kinds of decisions for the child that a legal parent makes, including medical decisions (see NH RSA 463:10 (allowing appointment of appropriate persons, including “co-guardians may be appointed when in the best interests of the minor”), 12 (rights of guardian)). The best interest of the child standard controls appointments of guardians (NH RSA 463:8), and a guardian must file annual reports on the minor’s welfare (NH RSA 463:12). This status is not permanent and any person, including the legal parent, may petition to have a guardian removed (NH RSA 463:14-16).
  3. Wills: A legal parent may use their will to 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.