Updated: October 2023
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be legal advice. It is an educational overview of the current state of adoption law as it relates to establishing, securing or confirming legal parentage for LGBTQ+ parents. Although it is based on current research, local practices, possibilities, and requirements may differ. We urge you to consult an attorney in your state who has expertise on LGBTQ+ family law and adoption to discuss your specific circumstances and the options available to you in your state.
What role does adoption play in LGBTQ+ parenthood?
Adoption is a valuable resource for LGBTQ+ parents for a variety of different reasons. LGBTQ+ parents might use adoption to bring a child into their family through the child welfare system or private adoption agencies. For blended LGBTQ+ families, adoption is a way to create legal ties between the stepparent and the child(ren). And, for LGBTQ+ couples who use assisted reproduction to expand their families, adoption is a way for parents to ensure that their legal relationships with their child(ren) are fully protected.
Words to know
A legally recognized and secure relationship between a child and their parent or parents.
The creation or confirmation of legal parentage by a court.
An adoption process available to married couples in every state, including traditional stepparents (e.g., folks who married someone who was already a parent) as well as couples who plan to expand their family together and wish to obtain a court order to confirm the legal rights of the non-birthing and/or non-genetic parent.
Second parent (or co-parent) adoption
An adoption process available to married or unmarried couples in some states to establish or confirm the legal rights of the non-birthing and/or non-genetic parent.
A streamlined adoption process created by statute in a few states to confirm the parentage of those who are already legal parents under state law.
Why should I adopt my own children?
Depending on your family circumstances, the law may not recognize you as your child’s legal parent. Although there are situations under which the law should recognize you as a parent, adoption eliminates any confusion. It entitles you to make medical and other important decisions for your child and ensures that your child will have the right to inherit from you and access certain benefits. If your relationship breaks down, determinations about custody or visitation will be based on the child’s best interests rather than who the child’s parents are. If you move to another state, your parentage will be recognized even if that state is otherwise hostile to LGBTQ+ families.
We understand that it can be confusing, and even insulting, to adopt your own children. The terminology (“stepparent,” “second parent”) might not feel right to you either. But what really matters is that these court-ordered adoption judgments (also called “decrees” or “orders”) are final and cannot be undone. In fact, the U.S. Constitution requires that all U.S. states and jurisdictions recognize all validly issued court judgments.
In today’s climate, as LGBTQ+ people continue to bring children into their families and state laws struggle to keep up, obtaining this judgment is the most certain way to ensure your parental rights are recognized and fully protected.
What does adoption entail?
In most states, confirming or establishing parental rights through adoption usually entails submitting a petition for adoption that includes:
- Background checks
- Supporting documentation
- Home studies or references
- A filing fee, and
- A court hearing
The good news is that some states have simplified the stepparent or second parent adoption process for same-sex couples and other families who use assisted reproduction. A few states offer a streamlined process called confirmatory adoption for certain couples who are already legal parents under state law or doctrine.
As always, it is best to speak with an experienced lawyer in your state to understand your state’s laws and to determine the best path forward for your family.
Securing Legal Parentage for LGBTQ+ Parents by State
AL | AK | AZ | AR | CA | CO | CT | DE | D.C. | FL | GA | HI | ID | IL | IN | IA | KS | KY | LA | ME | MD | MA | MI | MN | MS | MO | MT | NE | NV | NH | NJ | NM | NY | NC | ND | OH | OK | OR | PA | RI | SC | SD | TN | TX | UT | VT | VA | WA | WV | WI | WY | PR
Click on your state above to learn about the laws and procedures for stepparent, second parent/co-parent, and confirmatory adoptions in your state.
- States highlighted in orange allow stepparent adoption for married couples. Note: This may be called second parent or co-parent adoption in your state.
- States highlighted in pink allow stepparent adoption for married couples and second parent/co-parent adoption for unmarried couples.
- States highlighted in teal allow stepparent adoption for married couples, second parent/co-parent adoption for unmarried couples, and confirmatory adoption for legal parents.
- States highlighted in grey allow stepparent adoption for married couples and confirmatory adoption for legal parents.
Remember: This information is an educational overview and is not intended to be legal advice. For specific advice on the best path forward for your family, as well as up-to-date information about the laws, practices, and policies in your state, consult an attorney.
Are there alternatives to adoption for securing legal parentage?
There are some alternative routes to securing legal parentage outside of adoption, including:
- Obtaining a parentage judgment. Some states have updated their parentage laws to reflect all the ways that we can become parents! This means that they’ve made the process of establishing or confirming legal parentage for LGBTQ+ families easier. In this process, once the court finds that you are a parent, you will receive an order that must be honored in all jurisdictions across the United States.
- Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP). Sometimes called an Acknowledgment of Parentage or a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage, a VAP is a form that parents sign acknowledging that they are a child’s parents and are willingly assuming the rights and responsibilities of parentage. VAPs are not new for different-sex couples, but only 11 states allow same-sex couples to sign them. Once a VAP takes effect, it is the legal equivalent of a court order. Federal law requires VAPs to be recognized across the United States.
But isn’t a birth certificate or marriage enough?
It’s easy to assume that because your name is on the birth certificate, you’ve established legal parentage already. However, being listed on a birth certificate alone does not conclusively establish parentage. It is evidence of a parent-child relationship, but it does not take the place of one of the other pathways to establishing or confirming parentage. You might also assume that your relationship to your child is protected because you’re legally married to your child’s gestational or biological parent. While that might mean you’re recognized in your home state as a parent, obtaining a court order or judgment provides additional security.
Given the patchwork of parentage laws across the U.S. and the bias and discrimination LGBTQ+ families still face, many families choose to obtain a court judgment confirming parentage, which must be recognized across state lines.
This information was prepared and distributed by Family Equality.
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Family Equality exists to create a world where everyone can experience the unconditional love, safety, and belonging of family. Our mission is to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find, form, and sustain their families by advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community.