Understanding Stepparent Adoption for Non-Biological LGBT Parents

In California, birth certificates can be labeled with any combination of mother, father, or the gender-neutral “parent.” However, many LGBT parents are surprised to learn that even if they are listed on the birth certificate, non-biological parents also need to adopt their child. In this post, we’ll outline one common type of adoption, known as a stepparent adoption. Please take note that this post is not legal advice. We advise you to consult an attorney if you are considering an adoption.

What is a stepparent adoption and who qualifies for it?

Historically, stepparent adoptions were simply used when an individual wished to adopt their spouse’s child from a previous relationship. Although this remains the case for many families, that is not the only way that this type of adoption can be used. There are two main qualifiers. First, one parent must already legally be the parent of the child. Second, the adopting parent must be either married to, or a domestic partner of, the biological parent. For many LGBT families, this may occur in other situations than the one previously described. For example, perhaps a married lesbian couple used a sperm donor to have a child. Even if both mothers listed their names on the birth certificate, in this case, the partner who did not give birth would qualify for a stepparent adoption.

Will we qualify if we are not married or in a domestic partnership?

No, you will not. While many couples may be in a committed, long term relationship, only those who are married and/or in a domestic partnership qualify for this type of adoption. However, if this isn’t the case for you, you may still qualify for what is called a “second-parent” adoption. In California, any person who has the consent of the biological parent, and who has shown that they have acted as a parent to the child, can petition for a second-parent adoption. This may be a long-term romantic partner of the parent, or perhaps it is a grandparent, aunt, or other close family member who plays a large role in caretaking. Alternatively, you can first marry or become domestic partnerships, and then apply for the stepparent adoption.

Is there an expedited adoption process?

Yes, an expedited process is available under certain conditions. In 2015, California passed the “Modern Family Act,” which modernized several aspects of family law. As part of this act, a simplified, expedited, and less costly stepparent adoption process was created. This process may be used when one parent gave birth, and was married to, or a domestic partner of, the other parent at the time of the birth, and there are no legal disputes (such as with a sperm donor). If this is the case, the birth parent is automatically a legal parent, and the non-birthing parent can qualify for the expedited adoption process. Those who qualify will experience lower fees, no home inspection, and no court appearance, among other benefits. However, if a judge finds any reason that those steps may be necessary in your case, you may still have to fulfill them. It is noteworthy that this expedited process only applies when one parent gives birth. It does not apply if one is simply biologically related to the child (such as being a sperm donor and utilizing a surrogate).

Do I need to complete a stepparent adoption even if I’m listed on the birth certificate?

Any non-biological parent should legally adopt their child, even if they are listed on the birth certificate. This is particularly important for the LGBT community. As the National Center for Lesbian Rights explains, “even though California provides many protections for non-biological parents who haven’t adopted, many states do not. You will still need an adoption to be able to safely travel or move outside of California.” While birth certificates may not legally be respected in other states, a court order by a judge must be honored. Therefore, an adoption is the strongest way to legally establish parentage.

Building your family is an exciting and heart-warming experience. At the Gay Family Law Center, our attorneys have extensive experience in navigating the ins and outs of LGBT family law, including adoption. We are here to ensure that all the legal processes are taken care of, and you can focus on creating memories with your child. Call us at (855) LAW-LGBT to schedule a free consultation at either our Palm Springs or West Hollywood locations.

Photo by neONBRAND